For many of us, perception is reality. Our experiences shape what we perceive to be true, and this apparent truth becomes our reality. However, long ago I learned a lesson in approaching life this way from a very unlikely source: a high school football coach. This coach angered players when he would not allow his team to pray before games. When the players asked why, his response was enlightening: “If we pray before games, our team and our fans will believe we have God on our side. If the other team also prays before the game, their team and their fans will believe God is on their side. If both teams and their fans believe God is on their side, who’s going to win?”
While the coach was not invalidating his players’ nor anyone else’s beliefs, he was trying to get his players to see outside of themselves—to consider that their belief (their experience) was not the only reality.
As scientists, we seek to find the truth in all things, and to explain that truth as it is. This is a more philosophical and all-encompassing approach to describing reality—one that is not based on personal experience but rather evidence-based fact. But despite our best efforts, scientists are not immune to altered perceptions of reality. This is particularly true when we consider the importance of what we do versus what scientific-based industry does in taking a concept (a hypothesis) to the marketplace (tangible medical device, therapeutic intervention, pharmaceutical, etc.). This same altered perception is held by industry regarding academic scientists. Each understands the other is important, but they individually believe they are paramount to the other’s success when it comes to bringing life-altering changes to the marketplace. This is visually presented thusly:
The reality—that being the more philosophical reality—is that both industrial and academic scientists play important but very different roles in driving an idea from conception to a tangible conclusion. The problem for each segment is a lack of true understanding as to what the other brings to the table. This begs the question: What exactly entails the process of making an idea a tangible, marketable, product?
The purpose of this series, Wrecking Reality, is to demystify the gap in knowledge between academic research and industry product ideation, which ultimately combine to deliver lifesaving medical devices and therapeutics into the real world! Future posts will be geared toward elucidating the process of innovation through science, identifying who fills these roles, and discussing how/why they are important. Wrecking Reality is meant to help bridge the disconnect between scientists and industry professionals, highlight non-traditional roles for master’s and PhD students outside of academia, and help non-scientists understand the “How” and “Why” of scientific discovery.
My hope is that this series will not only help bring scientists and industry professionals together, but also clarify the true reality of what happens in science—from the bench to the shelf. From pacemakers to vaccines, from bench scientists to regulatory affairs, we’ll cover it all. I look forward to having you join this journey.
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Jonathan Ploeger is a former NIH fellow in nutritional cancer biochemistry and is currently PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. Prior to entering his PhD program, Jonathan was a chiropractor and owned and operated a private practice. Over the past year, he has worked as an intern for the Medical Alley Association, a non-profit biotech advocacy group that helps drive medical innovation through disseminating intelligence, shaping policy, and fostering interactions that support Minnesota’s biotechnological global leadership.