Confused, Unhappy, Yet Enthusiastic Students!!! (please help them define their carrier).

Bill_A_Nussbaumer at ms.bd.com Bill_A_Nussbaumer at ms.bd.com
Fri Jul 23 13:06:56 EST 1999

Bill A Nussbaumer at BDX
07/23/99 01:59 PM


I am a scientist at a company that has a defined history within the boundaries
of "traditional" microbiology.  (At least "traditional" medical microbiology)
The majority of scientists that work here, both in and out of R&D, were trained
in techniques such as colony counting, microbial identification, and
susceptibility testing (well there are a lot of chemists too).  Our bread and
butter at this time is still, even in this day in age, products for performing
those "traditional" techniques.  However, times are changing and while those
techniques are in no respect in danger of dying off, new techniques are being
added to the repertoire of the microbiologist.  Even in a large company such as
mine that is steeped in it's own culture (no pun intended) based on the
microbiology of past decades, more specialized and "molecular" techniques are
fast encroaching on the older ways.  Even the recent change in the name of my
division is a reflection of that change.  We used to be called Becton Dickinson
Microbiology Systems and have recently been consolidated into a larger entity
called Becton Dickinson Biosciences.  As far as I know BDMS no longer exists.

 I see microbiology as a very broad term indeed.   The study of life that lies
beyond the visible world.   And as such I don't think microbiology is dying away
as some might say, but is instead evolving, as are all other disciplines around
us.  Perhaps what is dying is the classic term typically used to describe the
microbiologist.  In the past, a microbiologist could be a scientist who was
trained in the study of most all forms of microbial life (or at least a large
subset of those life forms).  As information about microbes increases
exponentially it becomes impossible for one person to keep up with the vast
database of knowledge on all types of microbes.  Naturally, as I see it, this
forces people to become more specialized.  Perhaps one would be most interested
in why a specific bacteria has suddenly emerged as resistant in the population.
This person could study the epidemiology, the growth patterns, phenotypic
response to antibiotics, genotypic changes between normal and resistant strains
, or biochemical changes specifically related to the resistance.  Aren't all
these tasks now falling to the microbiologist?   But they certainly fall under
other classifications as well.  I would argue that a person willing to fill this
niche should have at least a familiarity with most of these disciplines and
perhaps a much deeper understanding of two or even three.   In my opinion, based
on my perceptions in the United States, it is in a microbiologist's best
interest not only to focus on the growth patterns and culture techniques of the
classical microbiologist but to also use that as a base upon which to grow with
any other techniques available to him or her to solve the problem, and answer
the question at hand.

I personally have not completely decided how I would fall in the ongoing debate
of how to classify microbiologists, or whether or not to classify them at all.
On one hand, language is how we communicate, and without developing a common
language we are at a disability when trying to understand each other on a common
ground.  However, my gut reaction is to say, who cares!  From what I've seen in
my in my brief career as a molecular microbiologist :-) these classifications
have caused more harm than good.  Besides the time spent arguing over who is
allowed to do what because of the title they have chosen for themselves, it
seems to create a division between scientists who should be sharing information
and learning from one another rather than feeling they are more capable than
someone else and eschewing their help.  It seems to help create a caste system,
and with it, the perception of elite groups working in the "hot fields" and
others who are on their way out of favor.  Suddenly you are faced with people
struggling against one another on the perception that each needs to hold on to
their specialized niche in order to remain viable in the scientific community.
I believe this leads to information hogging and an unhealthy competitive
atmosphere.  I know, it's human nature and politics are a part of everything we
do, but why exacerbate the situation if we can help it.  I certainly don't have
an answer, nor the experience of years to know whether what I see is completely
valid.  I'm just of the opinion that we might be better off changing the way we
view our careers from a "classification based" model to one more based on doing
what we are interested in doing and solving the problems that need to be solved.
If that means that a veteran microbiologist suddenly finds him/herself in the
position of needing to learn cloning techniques from a younger, less experienced
colleague then that's fine.  He doesn't have to stop calling himself a
microbiologist because he learns new skills.

I'm not sure if I've hit upon what you are after, and I certainly can't comment
on the market conditions for scientific talent in India but I hope my perception
helps a little.  And hey I'm open for discussion about it too.  I would say that
if your students are interested in protein engineering, immunology or any other
specific discipline then they should look into the choices they have and go for
it.  It's the job of older scientists and teachers to show them their options
and give them the skills they need to make tough choices and take their fields a
step beyond.  I would personally be apt to take a slightly different approach
than you suggest.  I would say a fundamental knowledge of microbiology is
certainly important as you suggest, but sticking to the basics because they
don't have the resources to learn the latest technical procedures and then
asking them to go out in to the world and try to fit in is a little backwards.
I would be more inclined to get them interested and excited about the
opportunities that do exist, and figure out what problems out there need to be
solved and then let them determine (with your expert guidance of course) what
types of skills are necessary to meet those challenges.  Perhaps those young
minds will be the ones that are able to bring the facilities you currently lack
to the next generation, and give them the opportunities they never had.

Bill Nussbaumer
Associate Scientist
Becton Dickinson Biosciences

*** These opinions are my own and not a reflection of the opinions of Becton
Dickinson ***

Dear Netters,

I have recently posted two questions to the news group entitled
"Define microbiology ..."
"Boundries of microbiology"

May be because I did not elaborate my question or motive properly, the
response received wasn't adequate. Hence I am putting my question once
again (for the last time) in elaborated manner with the hope of
receiving a better response, and thorough discussion.

Defining microbiology isn't all that simple. Our students (in India)
keep on reading about protein engineering, mammalian cloning, HIV,
monoclonal work etc. and constantly argue that these are all branches of
microbiology. This is just because some of the techniques used in all
these experiments or the object is somewhat related to what they study.

I am not saying they are wrong. But at this point of time neither they
have facilities to try or even have a look at such types of experiment,
nor there is a broad industrial/ research base to provide carrier
opportunities for microbiology students (on a mass scale).

It is this reason that I try to broaden the boundaries of microbiology
in their minds.
I argue that they must try to capitalize on their understanding of
principles or concepts that are heart of microbiology. For example
"geometric growth" and "aseptic techniques"
are also key issues respectively in fisheries (rearing) and tissue
culture. Incidentally these are the areas where we have much better
opportunities in India. So, I suggest the students to find out more and
more such hard core principles/ phenomena of microbiology and then try
to correlate them with the available potential carrier opportunities.

In this respect can anyone help me out? May be just by suggesting a
variety of microbial phenomena and / or principles that strike to you?

Additionally I would also like to obtain PC ( Windows 95) based
educational software's that can be used for better understanding of
basic microbial  concepts / facts or sophisticated techniques/
experiments. These are to be used for educational purpose only. Any such
material / addresses of the sources are welcome.


Dr Abhay Shendye.

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