Tonight I reread the dedication from my 2007 PhD thesis, which explains why a Neuroscientist like me eventually ended up in a non-profit. Although some of my thesis chapters never made it into papers (which was why I was reading it – to help my advisor and my lab get a belated manuscript out) the page that really matters is the one that reminds us how lucky we are to be able to dabble in science:
Thesis Dedication – Marc Maxson
There are six billion people in the world. Most of them will never own a book, much less write one. Among the 2.5 billion people who live on a few dollars a day, without electricity or running water, there are probably thousands if not millions of Einsteins and Newtons, Ghandis and Jim Hensons. But for the accident of my birth I would probably be fetching water from a well right now.
Accident or no, there is an avalanche of wealth that surrounds me and threatens to bury me in trifles – this is the true aberration on the planet. We in the United States spend more on ice cream, dog food, and makeup each year than it would take to end AIDS, to educate the world, or to weed the fertile ground of poverty that breeds want and war. My research has been no bargain*, but I have tried my best to find meaningful cures to disease and improve our understanding of the brain so that others might find cures. I still have much to learn, and I dedicate this work to several of the brilliant Africans whom I’ve met that would make brilliant scientists, if only they had the opportunities afforded me by birth.
But much of what I have left to learn cannot be taught by people in America, where Life wears a veil hiding the wonders of our world. When brilliant stars against a pitch black sky define your nightscape, when bread and water taste full of flavor, when you can smell the Earth and not our mark on it, then will you see this world of great mystery and uncertainty. For there is much wisdom in seeing things as they are and not as we are: a people full of answers but still struggling with solutions. We owe it to the world’s people to make this aberration of modern science count for something in their lives, so that the geniuses among them can lead our recalcitrant “advanced” civilization in America away from a collision course with ourselves.
Note: "My research has been no bargain: My stipend, insurance, lab supplies, and equipment probably cost over $500,000."