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March 7, 2007
Fish Nor Fowl?
The grad-school advice topic from the other day got me to thinking about another issue in that line. Everyone knows about how hot all the mixed chemistry-biology stuff is (and has been). Chemical biology, biological chemistry - call it what you like, a lot of people are doing it (and a lot of people are getting funded for it).
That's fine with me. I find a lot of the work very interesting (though not invariably), and some of it looks like it could lead to useful and important things. My worry, though, is: what happens to the grad students who do this stuff? They run the risk of spending too much time on biology to be completely competent chemists, and vice versa. Instead of being seen as well-rounded modern scientists, ready to take on the blurred boundaries of the new research, they might end up unacceptable to their potential colleagues in any given discipline.
I'm sure these fears have come up every time a new field of research opens up. ("Organometallics, you say? So, are you an organic chemist or an inorganic one, hey?") They've taken care of themselves in the past, and they probably will this time, too - eventually. But I'd have to think that there's going to be a lag time, which we're surely still in, during which the people who've done hybrid projects are going to have a hard time proving themselves in the traditional categories.
I should qualify that to the traditional industrial categories. Academia, following the hot topics and following the grant money, is surely more more hospitable to the new breed. But many of the tools of chemical biology are still a bit blue-sky for use in the drug industry (or are seen to be), and even the ones that are already in use tend to be used by people who are more easily classified. Probably the smaller companies are out in front on this, having less invested in the standard organizational charts and often being closer to the academic worldview anyway. Thoughts?
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