In previous columns, I wrote about what I regard as essential for fostering creativity. To summarize: a comprehensive ability with knowledge in a variety of fields is desirable. With this in mind, I always urge my lab members to describe their "vision." I ask them to "think large." Let your imagination wander: What if things like this were discovered? What if a research develops in such a way?
One can, just to give you an example, take the genes/proteins one is doing research on, and try to imagine, beyond the expectant research outcome, what biological truth can be investigated in terms of living organisms. In a way you're daydreaming, but a researcher with parochial vision would have a hard time doing it. Also, a steady progress of your own research aside, one needs to be able to have some ideas as to the direction, the kind of contribution one's research might be making.
Practice is of importance when it comes to visualizing/imagining, even if it does not come easy because of your limited experience as a researcher. As you practice conveying your vision you will see that your horizon as well as your knowledge will expand. The training in visualization is not difficult. I'll give you another example. Suppose there is a gene whose expression is specific to glia cells. You can start by posing a simple question: "Why is the expression of this gene specific to glia cells? What purpose is being served by this fact?"
As for training yourself to understand the kind of contribution your research can make, you don't have to confine yourself to science. There are many things in life that we take for granted, but the workings of which are not well understood. Imagine how those mysteries might be solved, or better yet, how your research might end up making a contribution in finding an answer to those mysteries. Wouldn't that be interesting! It is like daydreaming about what you'd buy if you won big in a lottery, but it is fun and it'll help you develop as a researcher.
This type of training in visualization is also helpful for building up your writing skills. It is more satisfying to write a paper with the contribution visualized in your mind. Telling a story that is your vision is a good approach to writing a paper.
While I place certain expectations on young researchers, I am also aware of my responsibility as to the need for establishing a clear guiding policy. This was on my mind when I was writing the last column.
When I first became the director of this lab, a doctor whom I held in high esteem gave me some sage advice regarding lab management. One advice he gave me was: "A lab director needs to show his determination." I understood the advice to mean, not only do I need to convey my determination regarding research to the lab members, but also I need to be unwavering in order to lead them.
There are also others who gave me valuable lab management-related advice. Someone recently taught me a few terms from Zen Buddhism, and I found them very intriguing. I learned that terms like Shoju Sennen no Midori and Seizan Motoyori Fudo actually have meanings that are relevant in lab management.
I am indeed very fortunate to have had associations with knowledgeable people, and thus the reason for writing my previous column on the importance of personal relationship.
Let me also point out here that being a researcher has a distinct advantage over other types of employment, though few are aware of it. Namely, company employees are not in a position to choose their superior, but researchers are, provided that the timing requirements of both sides are met. Our lab, too, accepts each year some motivated researchers with vision. It is my wish and intention that the time they spend in our lab to be worth their while. I take it upon myself to see that each lab member develops and expands as a successful researcher.
Meirekireki Ro DouDou is another Zen term I learned recently. It means: "The truth is always manifest and actualized in its grandeur. If it is invisible to you, it is because your vision is clouded." I would like those who join our lab to develop themselves comprehensively as researchers, having vision always, and seek the truth no matter how long it takes.