January 18th, 2020

RNA Day sheds light on research science

By Kalinowski, Tim on August 2, 2019.

Event offered info on making it a career

Tim Kalinowski

Lethbridge Herald


The Alberta RNA Research and Training Institute (ARRTI) held an “RNA Day” on Thursday at the University of Lethbridge to showcase student research, explore the latest questions in the field, and to advise participants on some of the challenges associated with doing research science as a potential future career.

Panelists Ute Weiden-Kothe, Hans-Joachim Wieden and Laura Keffer-Wilkes from the university’s Faculty of Chemistry and BioChemistry held a question and answer session with RNA Day attendees just after the lunch break. Each spoke about why they decided to do RNA research, and some of the difficult trade-offs one sometimes has to make when you are working in a field of great human importance, but one which is generally unknown or incomprehensible to 95 per cent of the people you meet on the street.

Ute Weiden-Kothe said she faced great pressure from her family and friends to become a medical doctor instead of becoming a bio-medical researcher when it came time to make that choice in her life.

“Humankind is really driven by curiosity,” she said. “Overall as society we make progress by making new discoveries, sometimes not knowing what they are good for. I find discovery in and of itself is actually of human value, but that is very high-level and abstract. When I decided to study science, and I told people this, it was a pretty awful why … You do need to have a why, and a good one. And not just one for yourself, but you always need a why you can tell others.”

Weiden-Kothe recalled when her aunt became sick with cancer she had questioned the worth of what she was doing when she might have instead gone into medicine to help find a cure for people like her aunt. However, research was what she loved doing, and she felt her bio-medical research would potentially be helping more people in a longer term sort of way- this became her why, and such guilt and thoughts about choosing a research path have long since gone away, she said.

Hans-Joachim Wieden said part of the reason he went into science and research was because he was a Star Trek fan as a kid, and he loved how all the crew members worked together on the original series to analyze a complex and usually dangerous problem, uncover a solution, and in the end create the proper tool or response to solve it. He said researchers must support each other like that- working as a team, and celebrating each other’s successes together. This is the key, he said, to having a rewarding and fulfilling career in science.

Wieden went on to add because scientific discoveries emerge slowly over time after years or even decades of research punctuated by many failures, it is important for scientists not to become isolated. Isolation, he said, will only lead to frustration, and will ultimately give rise to temptation in the researcher to take ethical shortcuts or rely on questionable science.

“What I think is important is we are doing our (RNA) research in a constant understanding of what the implications and impacts are,” he said. “I think this is unique opportunity here at the University of Lethbridge for us because we are a liberal education school. One of the values we have is the integration between different disciplines. Just focusing on your own research in getting from A to B no matter what is indeed tempting. And if you are not supported by a (supportive) framework around you, that is a challenge.”

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