February 12, 2016
Doing something larger than you could ever do on your own
"There is a tendency for many investigators, especially early in their careers, to hold onto their work and not share it," says David Williams, the William G. Allyn Professor of Medical Optics; Dean for Research in Arts, Sciences and Engineering; Director of the Center for Visual Science - and a leading eye expert who pioneered the use of adaptive optics for vision correction.
"They don't realize - and it's one of the things that took me longer to learn than I wish it had - that one of the best ways to build your reputation is to share your ideas or your technology with the hope that they will be adopted.
"I was lucky enough to realize that if I let my students take my adaptive optics technology and use it to build their own labs, for example, it not only helped them get their independent research programs off the mark but also enhanced my reputation because so many more people were able to access and deploy the technology."
Is it any wonder then, that of the five NEI Audacious Goals grants recently awarded to Williams and four other investigators:
- four of the projects use adaptive optics as their core technology?
- three of the other PI's are either current collaborators with Williams or former postdocs in his lab?
- which means that four of the PI's will be cooperating with each other, even as they individually collaborate with other experts in the field on their individual projects - in effect widening the opportunities for synergy?
"That's the excitement of this," Williams says. "Why should we compete when one group can do one piece of it, and a second group can do another, and as along as you can manage authorships and credit appropriately and fairly, we can be much more efficient and effective in getting things done?"
"One of the things I'm proudest about in this community of people around the world doing adaptive optics and retinal imaging is that almost all of us get along really well, and we're moving science forward as rapidly as we can by helping each other. That doesn't always happen in science."
As Dean of Research for Arts, Science and Engineering, Williams is always looking for young faculty throughout AS&E who have the right personality and vision to take on larger, multi-investigator, multi-institutional projects.
"You have to be gregarious and interested in working with other people and tolerating the quirks that they have, just as they have to tolerate the quirks you have," Williams said.
"The largest source of optimism for me about the AS&E research portfolio is the quality of our junior faculty members - their enthusiasm and energy. Many of them have cut their teeth on individual investigator awards and will reach a certain point in mid career when they realize they need to reach out for complementary expertise in order to do more."
Williams' advice: The best collaborator may not be the first one that comes to mind.
"One of the biggest mistakes faculty members make is to choose a collaborator who is just like them, who has the same interests in a problem and the same background and who they can easily begin a conversation with because they are so closely aligned. But that doesn't really help your research. You want to have somebody who . . . has a completely different skills set. As obvious as that is, it doesn't always get factored into planning how to accumulate the necessary wisdom to do something larger than you could ever do on your own."
February 10, 2016
A study out today provides new insight into how the brains of drug addicts may be wired differently. The findings, which appear in the journal Psychopharmacology, show that while drug users have very strong motivation to seek out "rewards," they exhibit an impaired ability to adjust their behavior and are less fulfilled once they have achieved what they desire. Addressing this disconnect between the craving for a drug and the ability to regulate behavior may be one of the keys to breaking the cycle of addiction.
"The vast majority of people, when faced with something they want, will assess how achievable the goal is and adjust their actions and expectations in order to maximize their potential to achieve it," said John Foxe, PhD, the chair of the Department of Neuroscience at the University of Rochester Medical Center and senior author of the study. "However, it appears that the integrity of this system of assessment and self-regulation is impaired in substance abusers and this may contribute to the risk-taking behaviors and poor decision-making commonly associated with this population."