From the sidelines

11/07/2004

Any time management book worth its salt will tell you that you must make the most of commuting time. Well, sovaldi at least that is the theory if you spend a reasonable amount of time moving from point A to point B. Living in Hobart and spending between 12 (no traffic) to 20 (lots of traffic) minutes going from home to work there is no much that one can do with commutes (particularly if I am not travelling alone). However, viagra there is radio. I do not mean FM-greatest-hits stations but old fashioned AM Radio National. (Digression: I am quite geeky about gadgets and things like that, but concerning media I like AM mono radio. I believe this is a vestige of driving my Ford Cortina 1972 — that I sold in 2002 — which only had AM radio.)

Yesterday the program was an interview to Chilean writer Isabel Allende, of ‘The house of the spirits’ fame. Actually, I think that most of her books are rehashing ‘The house of the spirits’, but that has nothing to do with this comment. She was talking about feeling at home in a culture, and how she never felt that in the USA. However, despite of living many years outside Chile, she feels culturally at home every time she visits the country. She would understand every reference, body language, expression, etc. This did not mean that she felt like returning home for good; she didn’t. It was just the relaxation that comes with familiarity.

Isabel Allende’s explanation got me thinking. Yes, going back to my country of birth presented the familiarity (although I grew up in three Latin American countries). However, it was only familiarity with the old aspects of the culture. I would miss many references to newer events and TV programs, and TV really permeates any modern culture! Familiarity did not translate into ‘I want to stay here’, though. It was more like ‘I know this, but I want to go back home’. In Australia I feel familiarity with the newer aspects of culture, but when people talk about the ‘Whitlam era’ is like they were talking about ancient Egypt (in Egyptian). I have only lived under Howard’s era; yes, it sounds pathetic, but I didn’t choose him as Prime Minister.

It might well be that, having grown up in many different places and then moved to other countries as an adult, I am destined to have only partial familiarity with many cultures. It is a strange, sometimes difficult, sometimes really enjoyable destiny.

It has been fifteen months since I stopped working full time in genetics. I was feeling tired — some may even say burned out — of the topic. After ten years there was nothing really exciting. I think that I was trapped by the routine, about it
dealing with small problems and loosing track of the big picture. I did not completely stopped working on genetics, no rx
but I have been spending less than ten percent of my time on it.

Two weeks ago I started thinking again on tree breeding, but mostly about big picture items. For example, how to integrate different parts of breeding programs rather than how to obtain an infinitesimally small covariance component. I realised that I still enjoy very much this area of genetics and breeding.

This experience got me thinking about the rise and demise of research groups. During the 1970s the tree breeding group in the New Zealand Forest Research Institute (now Forest Research) was one of the most exciting places to be in, putting forward new breeding strategies, using selection index and type B correlations. Later, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the School of Forest Resources and Conservation from the University of Florida was a very interesting place, and they were busy applying BLP (basically selection index) to every possible dataset. Starting in the mid 1990s, the School of Plant Science and the Forestry Cooperative Research Centres based at the University of Tasmania thrived evangelising forest geneticists about BLUP and breeding objectives. All those research groups are still active, but in general they are not at the forefront of tree breeding anymore. Some researchers will apply the same techniques to 300 datasets in one go rather than to a single one, but that is not exciting or very rewarding either from a research or an industrial viewpoint… It may be that researchers got tired after a wild ride.

Another interesting point is that many of these groups developed a reputation applying techniques developed in the animal breeding world (e.g., selection index-BLP, BLUP, breeding objectives). It is not that people in forestry are not very creative, but we do lack critical mass when compared to animal breeders. It may be that the new exciting topics will come again from animal breeding. It may also come from other areas or even be developed from the inside. I am just happy to have recovered the “love for the trade” again, and am looking forward to dedicate part of my time to work in “big picture” items, wherever they come from.

Filed in forestry, genetics

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