Describe your fantasy institute

By Grant Jacobs 01/07/2010 14


Let’s borrow a meme from DrugMonkey, who is hosting the up-coming July Scientiae Blog Carnival (I’ll put a link in once it’s live). DrugMonkey writes:

I thought it would be fun to revive an old game we played in my grad-lab, ‘Fantasy Institute’. The rules of the game are simple – you have been selected as the Director of a newly endowed research institute. It is your job to decide where the institute will be based, its codes of conduct, its structure, and who you will hire. Dream away! Tell us what would make your institute a haven for scientists. A ‘everyone must leave by 5pm’ rule? A woodland setting with squirrel feeders? Daily shipments from your favourite supplier?

I invite readers to add their favourite ideas, serious, fun or even silly in the comments. What features would you want?

To encourage readers, I’ll stick my neck and offer a random bag of late-night offerings. I’d be more serious, but this isn’t the time…

An bottomless endowment fund. Hey, who wouldn’t want that? Want that 500MHz NMR spectroscope?That (smallish) supercomputer? A new electron microscope? The latest high-throughput DNA sequencer? Just go and buy it.

A research institute. Researchers are encouraged to teach undergraduate students, but are not obliged to. They would be strongly encouraged to teach their fellow staff the rudiments of their patch. No ‘isolated islands’ in my institute.

Café-bars. Essential! Put on a selection of them. Architecturally designed, of course. Excellent food, choice wines, beers and non-alcholic drinks. Affordable pricing. With long opening hours. (Seriously, having a genuinely welcoming setting for staff to informally mix can be a real benefit to a place.)

All newcomers get to choose a buddy, esp. for younger staff and post-graduate students. I’m thinking here of a proactive effort so that problems are less likely to arise and/or fall between the cracks.

Talented staff science writers that maintain background in your interests and check with you before releasing things to the public! (I’ve got to cater for my science communication readers too…)

Decent walk-out-the-door access to wilderness or the next best thing. This is a fantasy institute. When I’m reading and thinking, I like to take myself someplace out of the office. (To sod with squirrel feeders. Not that we have squirrels in New Zealand to start with…) Maybe cross-country skiing in winter?

Parallel to the research ’hierarchy’, a management hierarchy that proactively takes care of the management issues. Accounting. Ordering stuff. Whatever. Researchers do research. (And manage their research team.)

Too serious and niche for this list, computational biologists would have their own stand-alone research groups, with encouragement for computational biology collaborations with ’wet’ (bench) research staff.

And a bunch of others but this should get you going, right?

So… what would you have?


Other articles on Code for life:

Royal Society publishing free to read, 1665 – today

What is your relationship with your research notebook?

I remember because my DNA was methylated

Testing common ancestry to all modern-day life

You can change the ideas, but not the data


14 Responses to “Describe your fantasy institute”

  • i suspect Dave means Asimov’s The Foundation, at least how it was in the second bit of the first book 😉

    I don’y know about my deam, but one of the guys at the Evolution meetings flashed up this photo of his work place. I could manage working there…

  • I remember when the Scripps Research Institute first opened, hearing descriptions of a central atrium with plants etc, with surrounding stairwells leading to open plan, state of the art labs. I always thought that would be brilliant. Add a cafe serving a range of cuisines, top notch technical and admin support and that would be my ideal institution.

  • David & Dave,

    It’s embarrassing. I like sci-fi, but I’ve never read The Foundation. I did think that might be what you were referring to, but not having read the book, wasn’t sure. What is it about The Foundation that would make it the ideal institute? (Without giving away too much plot if you could. I really must read it. I probably even have a copy somewhere on my shelves.)

  • David,

    I don’y know about my deam, but one of the guys at the Evolution meetings flashed up this photo of his work place. I could manage working there…

    Right on the beach! Forest settings are more like me, but it does look stunning.

    Headed by a structural biologist. Not only that, some of their work is right up my alley…

  • Any useful Institute would need to be far from the influence of:
    Government
    Military
    Religion
    Accountants;

    Have an “Anything Goes” research policy (you are welcome whether you’re studying earwigs or spacecraft propulsion or…);
    Facilitate/encourage interdisciplinary co-operation;
    Not too close to the beach – waves can be loud (I like the forest idea);
    Open all hours – I work best after 3pm (if only my work would co-operate…)

  • DrMike,

    It’s all metal! Where are the trees??? And what’s with all the grey?

    (I’m kidding.)

    Nice picture but, erm, maybe we should scale this back to institutes that could be built on the present-day earth…

  • possum,

    I guess we can say that there is spin and then there is SPIN.

    Interesting website if anyone feels like amusing themselves – thanks for the contribution!

  • My institute there would be rules (not too many though), the first being leave all your text books behind. Instead you have a computer with an internet connection. The goal of the institute would be to investigate and build energy machines, based on the theories of the freedom thinkers. Researching Tesla coils, LENR, CNCR, plasma electrolysis, water explosion under high voltage, the PAPP engine, the hutchinson effect, fuel cells, the caduceus coil, the MEG, SSG motor, John Searl, Stan Meyer, Sonoluminescence. I might have left a few out but I think you get the picture.

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