Everyone needs a hand sometimes.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reading The Eighth Day of Creation: Makers of the Revolution in Biology by Horace Freeland Judson. Judson sought to capture the characters, problems, successes, and false starts in the development of molecular biology. I picked the book up to find for more scientific stories for the MCAT students I tutor, but the book also made me think about a number of questions outside of biology. Specifically, the contrast between the success of a number of informal groups and the limited scientific successes of isolated individuals made me think about the importance of collaborators to science and to almost all academic pursuits.
The Eighth Day of Creation brims with successful examples of informal collaboration. All the big names in molecular biology wrote torrents of correspondence to each other. Various groups with obscure names like “The Phage Group” and the “RNA tie club” sprung up to disseminate ideas between different scientists working on different problems. The effort to discover the structure of DNA captures the importance of a collaborator. Rosalind Franklin, who took many of the X-Ray pictures that were essential to laying out the structure, generally worked alone. But it “is evident from her notebooks that she needed a collaborator” in order to check different ideas and ask different questions. In comparison, Watson and Crick, who laid out the structure of DNA, offer an example of a stellar collaboration where competition and camaraderie combined to drive both forward. To quote a friend of Judson’s about Watson and Crick, “you want to excel. You want to perform for the other.”
So blog readers, If you’re studying for the MCAT, I hope this blog inspires you to go out and find a collaborator and read The Eighth Day of Creation. Strike up a conversation with whoever seems interesting. Find a friend who thinks differently than you do and let your intellectual strengths complement each other as you work towards your shared goal, be it a high MCAT score, or a revolution in science.
On the other hand, if you’re studying for the GRE, the SAT, or just are looking for helpful studying hints, by all means, go look for a collaborator--but stay away from the book. It is really long.