There was a time when the term “scientist” carried an image of a senior person with glasses and lab coat working in a lab with some apparatus. Misleading it was, but at least that’s what our children’s story books, TV-cartoon, popular media had been teaching our youngsters (you may recall Emmett Lathrop “Doc” Brown, Ph.D.).
I had corrected my teenage concept of scientists during my undergrad years. I’ve got used to seeing scientists with nicer suits and polished shoes, without a lab coat. Having attended several national and international conferences and symposiums in recent years, I have met many young scientists or at least Junior PIs who are in their late thirties or early/mid-forties. Yes, there are many great minds actively working in the field who are relatively senior and lending their wisdom, prudence and guidance. Nevertheless, I am convinced that, being a scientist has nothing to do with your age. The comedy cartoons are all misleading.
Yes, there are young, and budding researchers are visible in all spectra of science. But, just how young? I ask.
Every year, the ISMB and ECCB, sees a large number of upcoming scientists, mostly from different universities, research laboratories or industry. Few years ago, when I first found this meeting, I was overwhelmed by the number of young researchers presenting their works.
Still, yesterday, I had my biggest shock ever. I met a young presenter at the ISCB Student Council Symposium, undoubtedly, the youngest participant on the day.
Mr. Prathik Naidu, 16, from the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Virginia, USA, was presenting his poster on gene expression analysis and it’s application in studying ethnicities in the United States.
Delegates twice his age were asking him questions on gene expression analysis, and he was trying his best to reply. I wouldn’t go much in depth in criticising his knowledge, but must express how impress I was with his responsiveness. He was trying his best, and I have noticed a few delegates enjoying the interactions and increased the intensity of the questions. Having presented on the same platform not so long ago, I could feel the pressure too.
Prathik had previously completed a High School Summer Internship with the Karchin Lab, led by Dr. Rachel Karchin from the Johns Hopkins University.
The ISCB Student Council stated that their mission is to promote the development of the next generation of computational biologists. Mr. Naidu’s participation at the symposium is clearly another step forward in that direction.