After reading “Talent is Overrated”, I kept thinking, “What are good deliberate practices for genomics and bioinformatics research?” For things like piano and chess, every hour of practice reaps one hour of benefit, and deliberate practice over long time can really make a difference. However, because of the fast progress of genomic technologies, sequencing a gene which takes a whole PhD dissertation 30 years ago now can be done in one second with high throughput sequencing. A lot of work published in Nature and Science 30 years ago look quite trivial now. Biomedical research has always benefited from technology development, which makes it so exciting! However, does it make waiting for better technologies tomorrow preferable to doing the hard work today? It shouldn’t, but what is the hard work today that still matters tomorrow or 20 years later?
I am now convinced that reading, writing, talking, and thinking should really be the deliberate practice. Thinking naturally accompanies reading, writing, and talking, so we should always “practice with our head instead of our fingers”. As for talking, I have enough deliberate practice through numerous lecture/conference/seminar talks, as well as meetings with lab members/collaborators/other colleagues. Very often, I talk to others to help me brainstorm, reason, and prioritize. To improve, I really should talk more succinctly, control both my time (not too long) and timing (not interrupting others), and listen more.
Reading is an area I should focus on improving. I have always been a slow reader, but this is mostly due to not reading enough. “Talent is Overrated” convinced me that I could overcome it with deliberate practice. Actually I always have interesting ideas (even though most wouldn’t pan out, a few might be decent) after seriously reading some papers, so the shortcoming has its benefits. Knowledge accumulation on biological and disease mechanisms, statistical and machine learning methods, and computer algorithms and databases will always be useful in the years to come. For now, the most useful reading for me is on cancer, epigenetics, and machine learning. Persistent reading, despite my slowness, could accumulate over time.
Probably the most important area of deliberate practice is writing. In science, writing papers and grants is part of our survival skills. I have learned so much from collaborators who writes well, especially Richard Losick, Jason Lieb, and Alex Schier. From working closely on paper revisions with Kevin Struhl and Myles Brown, I also realized that even great writers like them still work very hard on their writing to improve their papers. This is encouraging to me, as it gives me hope that I might write as well as they do with practice. Actually starting this blog is one result of reading “Talent is Overrated” to practice more writing. I have also worked harder with lab members to revise their papers since 2012. So far, paper revision has been slow and painful, but I do notice that writing blog articles has become a little bit easier now.
Last week, I heard that a colleague of mine at DFCI submits one grant every month. I don’t believe that he will have good and novel ideas every month (I am lucky to have even one real good idea in a year), but I do respect his discipline for deliberate practice on grant writing. Even with his good track record and the wonderful environment at Harvard and DFCI, he probably only gets 20% of his applications under the current funding environment. But 12 applications a year will ensure that he has good funding to support the projects he is really interested in doing. At least, he will practice his writing and get some feedback from reviewers. I should start with submitting one proposal as the PI every quarter. Of course, this shouldn’t take time away from the other deliberate practices, so I will have to cut my effort at other unimportant areas.