Flow for the Positive Pharmacologist

On a camping trip to the Michigan’s Upper Peninsula last summer, I had the distinction of being our cohort’s sole expert on the waterfowl skimming the waves of Lake Superior. Many thanks to my undergraduate degree in Behavioral Neuroscience, where I studied (among other things in the liberal arts model) courting and copulation in North American bird species. By my senior year, I had pivoted away from animal studies to pursue a more human-oriented training in the sciences. Fewer feathers, more pharmacology. And yet, I occasionally reach back and reflect on my work as a pharmacologist through the lens of a behavioral neuroscientist.

This month I’ve been chewing on the concept of “flow,” established by the positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his seminal work, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. He theorized that people are happiest when they reach a state of “flow” – complete focus and absorption in the work at hand. Flow is a universal experience that can be extended to many types of activities where your mind is stretched and your skills are engaged to accomplish an intrinsically rewarding challenge. I’d argue that this includes lab work. Now in the final stretch of my degree, my schedule is pleasantly full and data collection is more satisfying than ever. I’m arriving at work early, staying late, and getting in the zone at the lab bench.

I’m finding flow as a scientist…

  • In the meditative practice of loading a PCR plate. Your attention is focused on the feeling of the pipette gripped in your hand, and your breathing synchs with your movements between the tubes of samples and the 96 wells in the plate.
  • In an exploratory dive into the literature. A hot coffee on one side, your favorite pen and a new notepad on the other, and time falling away as the day transforms into a slurry of abstracts and hypotheses.
  • Immersed in data analysis. You’ve circled the area of interest on a histology slide, plugged some commands into ImageJ to quantify it, and the numbers fall neatly down the rows to populate your Excel template.

Finding flow in the workplace is said to enhance positivity, increase performance, and spur creativity. To bookend this summer of research, I’d like to offer well-wishes to the Early Career Voices readership community. I hope that you are all able to reach a happy state of “flow” in all your current pursuits, scientific and otherwise.

Annie Roessler Headshot

Annie Roessler is a PhD Candidate at Loyola University in Chicago, IL. Her research focuses on the neurobiology and molecular mechanisms of electrically-induced cardioprotection. She tweets @ThePilotStudy and blogs at flaskhalffull.com


We Should All Be Pharmacologists.

The setting is every wedding, reunion, or family gathering in the Spring of 2018, and I’m in a circle of distant relatives or friends-of-friends, clarifying the distinction between a pharmacologist and a pharmacist. If you want to be the life of the party at this summer’s neighborhood BBQ, explain to the stranger next to you in the buffet line why you’re not “that kind of doctor,” and yet your career requires over two decades of schooling.

Readers of the Early Career Voices column are a different audience – students, clinicians, and public health specialists – possessing a much better grasp of the pharmacologist’s day-to-day than my great aunt or high school classmate. Most AHA professionals even had a pharmacology course or two at some point in their training. I’m here to convince you, fellow Early Career Professionals, that regardless of what profession you put on your tax forms last month, we should all be pharmacologists.

Plug in “pharmacologist” on your favorite job-search board. You’ll find that pharmacologists influence every aspect of a drug’s journey from the lab bench to the patients. In academia and industry, pharmacologists work in multidisciplinary and collaborative teams as experts in drug absorption, distribution throughout the body, metabolism, and elimination. They understand disease states and collect, interpret, present, and explain data on a drug’s action at all levels.  A “drug” can encompass everything from a small-molecule inhibitor that has been synthesized in the lab to biologics and immunotherapeutics.

In my current position as a PhD candidate in basic cardiovascular sciences, I’m routinely utilizing pharmacological tools to accomplish my research goals. If I hypothesize that a protein of interest is critical to cardioprotection, I use a drug to inhibit that protein’s function and determine whether the cardioprotective effect persists in its absence. You’ll see me present this sort of work at AHA’s Scientific Sessions, when we all come together from our various career paths to talk about cardiovascular disease.

What should you consider when standing in front of a pharmacologist’s poster at Sessions? The same sorts of questions you should ask anytime throughout the year when reading a research article, listening to a seminar, or designing experiments that involve drugs. A few suggestions from a real life-pharmacologist:

  • The chemical nature of the drug. What is the mechanism of action? Does it get past the blood brain barrier? How long does it last in the body?
  • Frequency, timing, and route of administration. How often and in what way should the drug be given based on its known kinetics?
  • Dose (mg/kg). What does gives you the best therapeutic or on-target effects and minimizes side effects?
  • Specificity and efficacy. Does the drug work in the way that you expect it to, and how well does it do so?
  • Safety and drug-drug interactions. Is there a risk of adverse reactions, and does the drug play nice with any other drugs in the system?

The answers to these questions are extraordinarily valuable to biomedical scientists, but can be just as helpful to professionals throughout the AHA. Pharmacology is deeply integrated into many of the core cardiovascular disciplines; by strengthening our pharmacology skillset, familiarizing ourselves with our drug toolbox, and considering how pharmacologists work, we can better understand and critique developments across the cardiovascular field.

Annie Roessler Headshot

Annie Roessler is a PhD Candidate at Loyola University in Chicago, IL. Her research focuses on the neurobiology and molecular mechanisms of electrically-induced cardioprotection. She tweets @ThePilotStudy and blogs at flaskhalffull.com