Mark & Jon in San Diego

I’m writing this at LAX airport as I await my flight out of California, at the end of another successful visit to my collaborator, Vipin Kumar. Jon has been with me this week, and we’ve had a fantastic time – its always a bit dull, even in a place as nice as La Jolla, to be visiting on your own.

As always, its been a hugely positive meeting. The CD200 modelling work that was largely conducted by Bjorn and James recently was well received, and we have submitted an abstract describing the preliminary findings. We’ve also made excellent progress on the Nature Biotech, now Methods, paper. And I have a stack of material to look at and distill into some interesting grant proposals; Jon pointed out that, incredibly, all the progress made within his lab on modelling EAE, Payers Patch development and Leishmaniasis has received not one cent of direct funding from any funding council. This is not for want of trying, and with a promising Nature Methods paper in the works, a Science Signalling paper already accepted, and two other high quality publications in review, it’s astonishing that the lab has accomplished so much on money scraped together from disparate sources. Just think what we could achieve with some hard backing!

Trips like this always highlight to me the value of face-to-face collaboration in interdisciplinary endeavours. Technologies like Skype are impressive in facilitating collaborations, and my own carbon footprint is nothing to boast about, but what we seem to accomplish in a few hours of meeting in person can dwarf months of work over conference calls. I think it comes down to the huge separation between computer science/engineering and immunology disciplines. A passing comment from Vipin concerning some aspect of immunology has decades of highly specialised experience backing it, and other immunologists can follow the thought process, However to a computer scientist dabbling in immunology I often find at least 5 interpretations for what Vipin has said, and this needs extensive clarification. There are aspects of communication across these subjects that is very difficult to cram into packets and send half-way across the globe and have arrive intact. We have been writing the (now) Nature Methods paper for nearly 2 years now, and I can quite happily believe that without this visit it could be another 2. Thankfully the paper is now in a state where we think submission within the next few months is possible. A big part of it is also building the relationship, which is hard to do across boarders. Like many walks of life, I see success in science as being largely due to the people undertaking it. Building good collaborations with good people who you can trust is essential (I’ll keep my observations concerning the other side of this line to myself…).

I will be sad to see the back of the beautiful blue cloudless skies, ocean, sand and sun. The 25-30 degree climate is about to be replaced with the half meter of snow that I hear has fallen on my holiday destination of Calgary. I’ll be out of the loop for a week, back just in time for the CoCoRo general assembly in Stuttgart in 9 days. In the meantime, I will be visiting one of my childhood friends who emigrated to Canada a few years ago, and raves about how good it is. I hear that horse riding (in half a meter of snow?) is on the cards.