This is what happens when you attend Focus on Microscopy for a few years…

Most of the times, I write this blog for those two youngsters that might learn something by accidentally landing here. I wished to share with you a few things that might happen when you age, at least academically speaking. This is what happens when you attend FoM for a few years…

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I have met my PhD supervisor, Hans Gerritsen, a scientist and a man I greatly respect. Lost in memory lane, I have (re)told the story of when – while working in Goettingen with Fred Wouters – I wished to update Hans with a report on my latest theoretical developments.

Right click…

Create folder…

“this destination already contains a folder named ‘saturation FRET’ “

Well, I had discovered I had already written several tens of pages of maths for Hans, for then completely forgetting about it!!!

Which is the point? Well, I do have a horrible memory! I always had.

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When you get older you get many stories to tell and I like to tell stories having a laugh. When I meet people I got to know in the past and that have longer experience than me, I like to ask more historical accounts of the early times of, for instance, FLIM developments. Not a long time ago, I had a wonderfully entertaining and instructive conversation with Peter So and Ammasi Periasamy walking in the historical streets of Venice after lecturing at an international school of microscopy organized by Alberto Diaspro. Lots of fun, for me at least, speaking about the various characters of the field, anecdotes,  reconstructing the ‘genealogy’ of the various innovators (how they are scientifically related to each other). And I could not resist asking the question: “who did the first FLIM image”? I suggest, Wang et al 1989, but I am uncertain as I was 14 back then 🙂

Did I tell you I have a bad memory? Well, I did not lose the opportunity to re-ask to Hans, when I met him at FoM, “who did the first FLIM image”? Possibly, Chris Morgan.

While ‘googling’ Chris Morgan I found my own paper on Lifetime Moments Analysis (LiMA), as I cited his work. Well, DID I TELL YOU I HAVE A BAD MEMORY?

I also ‘discovered’ I did write a brief paragraph as a historical introduction about FLIM, and I had a flash-back of me asking Hans in 2005 the same question, which probably places Bugiel, Konig and Wabnitz as the winners in 1989. But let me know if you really know who published the first FLIM paper 🙂

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Here we are, a very new thing I have just noticed about what happens when you age academically. Presumably, the first FLIM paper was published in 1989, with work on FLIM proliferating during the first half of the 90s. My first paper on FLIM is the LiMA work of 2005 published in Biophysical Journal, ‘only’ 16 years after the first FLIM paper. Yesterday, my latest contribution to the field just got accepted on Biophysical Journal, 14 years later. Although I do not work full-time on it, I have contributed to the development of FLIM, in one way or another, for almost half of the time that FLIM exists. This gives me a rather strange feeling.

It is very instructive, in my opinion, for students and even for a tiny bit older ‘students’ like me to pause for a moment and look to the past of their discipline or the technologies they use. Compared to Physics, for instance, cell biology, biophysics, cancer biology are all rather recent disciplines. Fluorescent proteins are on the map since the sixties, but usable only since mid-90s not so long time ago for instance. Imagine what we might be able to do in another 20 years.

***

FoM is an occasion to meet many people, peek in the future through the talks of fellow scientists and discussions, watch back to past memories. Yesterday I barely walked three lines of posters in 2 hours, as I was getting engaged in interesting conversations every few meters with people I just met or people that I know, in a way or another, since many years. When I called back my wife, Suzan, in the evening, she reminded me of my first FoM in Australia, when I called her saying I was feeling a bit lonely and awkward as I did not know anyone.

Conferences like FoM are community, history, a boiling pot of ideas. I have been always a bit shy, and my suggestion to younger scientists is to make an effort not to be. Engage the others. Working in academia can be rather frustrating at times, and feeling part of a community can really help you in the future.

***

Fourteen years from FLIM paper to FLIM paper in Biophysical Journal. When not affected by an attack of imposture syndrome, I look back and I feel good in seeing what I have done so far. However, there is yet another thing I discovered when you age academically. The legacy one person builds is not papers. In part is the reverberation of your work in those of others, irrespective of explicit citations. In part is the comments of colleagues who tell you, even just privately,  when they got inspired by something you said, presented or published. But, growing a tiny bit older every year with FoM, it is also the younger generations coming to speak to you.

And, I would like to thank you all, because while impact factors, panels, research outcomes are the fog in which someone might lose themselves a bit too often, you are the light at the horizon signalling we are, after all, walking the right direction.

Author: Alessandro

Please visit my website to know more about me and my research http://www.quantitative-microscopy.org

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