When I was a postdoc at the University of Wisconsin, I always loved getting to interact with the geneticist Jim Crow. There was an informal gathering in the department every week after the seminar, and I loved when I got a chance to speak with Crow at that. One day that stands out was when he was telling about a visit that R.A. Fisher made to Wisconsin. (Based on when Crow arrived in Wisconsin and when Fisher died, I’m guessing this most likely was in the 1950s, but I don’t recall that detail.) Apparently Fisher was giving two lectures: a large public lecture on possible links between smoking and cancer, and a small department seminar on polyploidy inheritance in plants. Except, according to Crow, Fisher gave the polyploidy in plants seminar to the general audience, and the smoking and cancer one in the small department seminar. The story was amusing on its own, but I also stood there thinking, “Wow, he knew RA Fisher!”
I sometimes wonder what will be the thing that, if I am fortunate enough to be attending seminars and receptions when I am 90, will make me seem the most like I am connected to another era. This could happen even sooner than the age of 90, of course, and would be especially true for things that I’ve done (or interactions that I’ve had) that are anomalous for my age. So, sometimes I wonder, what will make me seem really, really, really old some time?
One of them, I suppose, will be that I met Jim Crow. But I think the most likely one is that I’ve manually sequenced DNA. I did this in 1999 as part of my undergraduate research project, where we used molecular techniques to identify resting eggs from an invasive Daphnia. My impression is that many places had already switched to automated DNA sequencing by this point, but others were in the process of switching over. (Certainly, there was a lot of excitement in the department at Cornell about moving to automated sequencing.) But, at some point, that I worked in a dark room to develop my gel, then read it off myself will make me seem absolutely ancient.
I also might have the last NSF grant that included funds for allozyme sequencing. That grant was awarded in 2009, so I was definitely behind the curve on genetic techniques! (Perhaps this is a theme?) But allozymes have been very useful in Daphnia, and are the diagnostic trait for identifying certain species. (We’ve finally moved into the 21st century and have shifted to using microsatellites to genotype our animals.)
Another one for me: the first talk I gave at a meeting was done with a slide carousel. And, I suppose some day scientists of my generation will regale grad students with the tales of big red X’s where figures should go, or axis labels that were all scrambled, and all those other mac-pc powerpoint problems that were common when people first started giving talks in powerpoint. Similarly, the first manuscript I submitted was submitted as a hard copy, mailing off 5 hard copies.
This also came up when Jeremy, Brian, and I emailed a bit about the post I had last week on how to make figures. I originally included CricketGraph as an option for how to make figures, then realized I don’t actually know how I have experience with it, since I should be too young to have used it. So, I could possibly bring that up some day, but presumably no one will be impressed since they’ll have never heard of the program in the first place. 😉 More likely will be that I will seem like a dinosaur because there was no (widespread) internet when I was little, but that’s not science-specific.
What things will some day make you seem like you’re from a totally different time?