Finding Collaboration and Purpose in Science

Cathy Xiang reflects on the lessons learned from the career talk of Dr. Jennifer Lodge, the new Vice President of Research and Innovation at Duke.

After hours in the lab, cleaning up data, and confronting the uncertainty and obstacles research inevitably brings, we must ask ourselves “why do we conduct research?”

In our second career talk, new Vice President of Research and Innovation at Duke and Microbiologist Dr. Jennifer Lodge spoke with us on her transition as a researcher to an administrative role in overseeing and enacting policy change to improve research at a departmental level. As the previous Vice Chancellor for Research and Senior Associate Dean for Research for the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Lodge imparts her experience and wisdom in her own personal experiences on the rewarding aspects of research.

“…effective collaboration and leadership were key elements to the projects she took on.”

As Dr. Lodge detailed her career path as a researcher to Vice President of Research and Innovation, effective collaboration and leadership were key elements to the projects she took on. A key turning point in Dr. Lodge’s path was discovering the key to her research in pathogenic fungus was genome sequencing. To solve the problem, Dr. Lodge organized a conference with 30 other scientists who could provide a better picture of how to tackle the genome sequencing issue, which was a more arduous process at the time. As an organizer, Dr. Lodge worked with scientists who were working on the grant proposal, scientists who specialized in working on genome sequencing, and even handled administrative tasks such as relieving tensions among the team.

Despite discouragement from others to not take on the organizer role on the project as Dr. Lodge’s own projects would be stalled, Dr. Lodge persisted in her collaboration with other scientists even with the knowledge that the recognition she would receive would not be the same as her peers. The project became a pivotal moment for Dr. Lodge as she realized that the success of her team and the implications of her research far exceeded the satisfaction from gaining recognition. In other words, Dr. Lodge understood that her role as a scientist to improve science and information for others represented something bigger than her own research, inspiring her towards pursuing an administrative role in scientific research.

Reflecting on Dr. Lodge’s introspection of her career path, I found myself drawing a link towards the collaboration and purpose that was so essential to Dr. Lodge’s research experience. As researchers, collaboration is essential: it creates new fields, ideas, and allows us to overcome problems that may have seemed impossible. We each bring unique perspectives and skills into a lab that would be overshadowed if research was conducted as an individual pursuit. Even among the Huang Fellows, the varying research interests among us creates an environment for unique discourse and allows us to see issues from different angles.

But, with collaboration, understanding the overarching purpose of research is vital. We often must sacrifice our time or stall our own projects to complete tasks and face obstacles for the sake of the entire team. If we conduct research for the sake of prestige, we not only abandon the principles of collaboration that is so essential to research, but we also lose sight of the problem-solving and interests that make research so rewarding. Though Dr. Lodge wasn’t listed as first or last author in the publication, her contributions to the team in pathogenic fungus was essential to the success of the project. In realizing that the research her team was conducting could revolutionize the molecular microbiology field, Dr. Lodge imparts an important piece of wisdom in which we must all find our purpose in research that allows us to see that the bigger picture in how our research can benefit our society.

Though I am an undergraduate student who is just starting out in research, I find myself unraveling the question that was posed at the start of my reflection. We conduct research not for name recognition or for the awards; rather, we conduct research with the motivation of improving science for others and advancing our knowledge in a particular field. Research allows us to uncover the truth and it wouldn’t be possible without the mutual collaboration among our peers.

“…we conduct research with the motivation of improving science for others and advancing our knowledge in a particular field.”

Cathy Xiang, Huang Fellow ’25

Cathy XiangCathy is a rising sophomore from Plainsboro, New Jersey hoping to major in Biology and Global Health.