All my hopes and dreams... gone in a flash. I wanted to be the first or at least be able to establish my thesis based on this line of work. Instead that hope has been reduced to nothing. What can I do now? How can I continue? I don't want to find a new research topic. I don't want to find a new field. I don't want to start all over again. I just don't want to...
These are the thoughts that went through my head as I glanced over a poster at the Biophysical Society Meeting. The poster described establishing a force profile of RNA Polymerase and studying how it affects nucleosome dissociation. The work was being done by a grad student in a competing lab. The lab was that of my PI's (Steve Koch) former graduate lab in Cornell, the Michelle Wang lab.
I decided to read the poster after Larry had pointed out that Dr. Wang had a student poster not too far from where I was standing. Larry didn't really care to read it. I walked over and glanced. I rapidly read the title. I don't remember gathering much information from the title, but after quickly scanning the poster an image of RNAP with the transcription bubble caught my eye and urged further reading. I walked closer and read a little more. I inched closer and read more. Each reading prodded me closer and to divulge further. Finally I decided to read the whole thing and ask the student questions.
The student (whose name escapes me as of this writing) was very friendly and nice. She discussed with me what they were doing and I told her that I would be doing the same thing (or so I thought). She was very interested in the technique I would apply and I told her it would be the same as hers. I then told her I worked for Koch and she immediately recognized the name. She shot me a smile as she realized that all her work was based on his prior work (the tweezers are courtesy of he and Richard Yeh, and their anchor construct is all Koch's doing).
In reality all the fears I had were premature. Sure they were warranted. A competing lab is working on the same topic and idea that we are. Turns out they are working with E. coli while KochLab is initially working with yeast (proof of principle stuff) and eventually will be upgrading to human genome studies.
As I gazed at every single section of the poster, I pondered in both wonder and fear. Wonder because the work done was very good and interesting. I was fearful because it was all the same work that I wanted to achieve. To feel like my project was being ripped out from right underneath me could quite possibly be the worst feeling in the world. I did have other endeavors I could follow, but the RNA Pol II studies are what I am most interested in, and I truly would like to be the first to carry out those experiments.
I have learned a very valuable lesson from that experience. The fear of scooping is a very real fear. Being an open scientist, I suppose now I could fear that even more, but I really don't have it in me. I want the whole world to know what I plan to do and share my experiences in real time instead of portraying the clean cut science at the very end of it with just a paper. I in fact would like to turn this experience into a positive. After seeing some of the work that my competitor is doing I would like to see if there is a way we could collaborate. Maybe that can never be, but at least by this offer I can put my fear aside and make it a strength.