Scratch 6/10/19

On the question of whether I should invest the time to pick up wet lab skills during my PhD, the thing that would make this question resolve easily is if it doesn’t take that much time to pick up these skills. In that case, I feel good about skills: they’re strictly an additional option for something I can do, and I can choose to suppress them. I definitely feel good about it taking, for example, 1 month of full time work to pick up wet lab skills, and maybe 3 months. I have one data point from Ethan Alley, who said he spent 2-3 years developing wet lab skills (although it may not have been full time, given he was in undergrad). We also may be going for different endpoints. He talked about being able to look at a biology paper, see the experiments done and understand and prioritize the likely factors in an experiment that could confound it (I didn’t ask specifically, but I imagine things like the choice of primer or the time elapsed before making an observation or the temperature used). I think that sounds nice and maybe is the endpoint I want to get to, but it’s also likely that I want a pretty focused wet lab training on certain things. I think of the main goals I have in biosecurity that pertain to wet lab—maybe having the skills of an epidemiologist in the field to “characterize” a new outbreak, having the skills of a doctor or hospital to diagnose an infection, being able to contribute to broad-spectrum antiviral development, being able to contribute to vaccine technology, being able to contribute to any basic/fundamental technologies or immunology that advance the previous 2 with no or outweighed downside effects, making credible claims (both in terms of actual credibility and in terms that will convince other scientists) about the risks of new biotechnologies. Perhaps there’s a focus in wet lab here. I should restrict though. Do I need to be the doctor? The epidemiologist? Probably no and maybe no (easier for me to hire or get someone else to hire that person?). Similarly, there could be dynamics in the credible claims goal that simplify this: if I try antifragile decisionmaking and keep in mind information hazards, I may not even want to be convincing other scientists about not doing something as much as I want to be influencing them to pursue another direction that obviates the initially dangerous one. That requires an understanding of the problem being solved by the original direction (which in many cases is just “make something new”) but it has to be justified in the field. So yeah, that potentially requires skills to develop a different technology that doesn’t have the downside risk, or it doesn’t if I can find non-technological solutions.

It’s also possible that there are dumb dynamics like “to work at CDC you need to know how to do wet lab.”

Regardless, I think the next step here is to get a few more datapoints on the time to learn wet lab and the importance of it in general, and if I’m asked to specify, I can focus on virology, etc. I think Michael Mina would be a good person to ask. To get “time to learn” data, I have so many BBS cohort-mates. I would be particularly interested in opinions of physician-scientists, epidemiologists (especially with the CDC or WHO), drug and vaccine developers, and then personal/sourced opinions on more likely fundamental technologies to help with vaccine and/or drug development (this one’s somewhat hard). EIS alumni on LinkedIn, people I met at CDC on the DC trip, just cold-emailing/calling CDC, etc.