Racing in circles to advance science forward

Research can feel a lot like training for a horse race

The Melbourne cup is run, a horse has won, and we can pack away our frocks and fascinators til next year. The tools downed for the Race That Stops A Nation can again be collected and work continues on just as it always has with scarcely a blip on our event radar.

But behind the 3 minutes of horse racing that most of us will actually watch each year are hours upon hours of hard slog work, getting up at stupid o’clock, and running around in repetitive circles all for the hope of success at the end. Much like science.

Science is not a 9 to 5 job, despite what my contract says. Particularly not biology with the needy-clingy cell cultures that demand attention over weekends and certainly not chemistry with painfully-slow size-exclusion chromatography running 24 hours a day with an inevitable 3 am solvent top-up.

And, of course, there’s the time point analysis where one point always falls on the most inconvenient time no matter how well you try to plan.

On top of that, there is the repetitive work analysing all the nuanced differences associated with testing every possible variable ad nauseam, just prove without doubt that the measured effects are due to exactly what we think they’re due to and not some other random interference.

The repetition and the crazy hours are essential to make science happen. And we do it willingly for the hope that one day we might get to the finish line and find that next cure for cancer, that new method for efficient wine production, that new solar cell that can revolutionize the energy sector, that next step forward.

Having that hope is what makes all those hours of racing in circles all worthwhile. Though I think the odd glass of champagne would be nice too.