Finding treasure at the NIH


I sipped dark coffee while I stared out the window of the bedroom in my apartment. I could see the National Library of Medicine, the National Cancer Institute, and other buildings in the background. Like an eagle perched on a branch, I gazed at the landscape before me. Surrounding the buildings were green trees, concrete paths, and faces of people on the edge of scientific research. This would be the National Institutes of Health, the place I would call home for the next two years.

A mere ten-minute walk from my apartment, I was in no hurry. I downed more gulps from my coffee on my way to work.

This morning routine would lead me to my work with my eyes focused on a goal. Some type of purpose or mission for my research in bioinformatics. That’s a fancy word for using computers to study biology. Everyday was about figuring out what that goal was and how to achieve it. It could be reproducing results described in a published paper or presenting data to carry the meaning behind its research. I’d use my walk to work every morning to figure this out how to find this treasure.
I arrived at my work bench at 9:30. Alone in an empty room, I opened my laptop and went straight to business. Throughout my day, I’d communicate with my boss and other professors  in person and otherwise on these goals. The culture of the NIH – driven to find answers, solutions, and new ideas – encouraged this drive. I worked with scientists who communicated with authenticity yet productivity. People valued research for its effectiveness and efficiency, but also spoke to each other as human beings. At the NIH, people valued criticism and debate to bring forward new ideas yet still trusted one another to work well together. While I hacked away on my laptop, I’d drink plenty of water to remain hydrated.
The research at the NIH was nothing that I had seen before. While I treated research as a side hobby during my undergraduate years, I’d have to push myself to new limits to keep up with new information at the NIH. Needless to say, everyone at the NIH had a purpose, and it was all about how to find it. As the afternoon fell into evening, I closed my laptop at my work bench and took a deep sigh. Searching for treasure at the NIH meant taking a long, winding journey. I sipped the last bit of coffee from my canteen.

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