OOF! What a question to ask a researcher! But alas, this is the question being asked to all entrants of the MRC Max Perutz Science Writing Award 2012. In previous years its just been ‘Write about your research for the lay-person’, but those were simpler times. Most researchers can wax lyrical for hours about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it…but can we defend WHY we’re doing it?
Many non-scientists think that a lot of research is merely ‘science for the sake of science’ (believe me I’ve had many an argument with my business-oriented family about this), but what people don’t understand is that to make something matter, the basics need to be researched first. You need a foundation to a theory before you can apply the findings to a new treatment or new technology. This is definitely the case in Psychiatry research; how can you develop treatments for any one of the many psychiatric disorders out there without first understanding mechanisms behind the disorder?
Often a hunch about what’s happening inside someone’s head is completely wrong, but you need to know what’s right before developing the treatment…and this can sometimes take years!
My research is in its infancy, it will take all 3 years of my PhD (if not more) to work out if our hunch is correct, and then probably a few years in a Post-Doc position to confirm and further investigate my claims. Maybe then I’ll find a Psychiatrist or CBT professional who wants to work on a treatment with me. So IF my hunch is correct, it could be 10 years or more before patients are benefiting from my research. Bummer.
But I believe it matters, and hopefully something will come from it that can add to our knowledge about psychiatric disorders in the future….