My church emphasizes the idea that “all of life is all for Jesus” – by which they mean that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, whatever we do can and should be done in and for God, no matter how mundane or humble or uncomfortable the task might be on its own merits. Every profession has purpose or nobility when done to serve other people, for the good of the community of humankind, and we can be encouraged to work with excellence when we see that purpose in our own life. So I’ve been thinking about my paid work as a molecular biology and bioinformatics research specialist, and how that job (and I through it) can bring glory to God.
- What I Do: For the last 9.5 years I’ve worked as a technician in a genetic sequencing core facility in academia – meaning, we handle DNA and RNA samples from researchers and get them the sequence data that they need to determine the results of their experiments. We don’t come up with our own experiments, or have our own research; instead, we support the research of a lot of other labs at the university, around the state, and even around the world. The specifics of the job are pretty technical, and there’s a wide variety of sequencing applications we provide, but that’s the gist of it.
- Learning About Creation: Some of the research we support is what is often called basic science: people who love the natural world delving deeper into its complexities, for the sheer joy of accumulating knowledge. Because all of God’s creation reflects His image and gives Him praise, learning more about that creation can help us see that image and attune our ears to that praise. How intricate and involved every aspect of life is, down to the unknown archaea in acid lakes or the countless insect species hidden in the rainforest! How varied and multicolored is the fabric of life, all woven for the beauty and wonder of itself and its Creator, in patterns we are only beginning to understand! How unfathomable must be the scientific mind and artistic eye that made all this!
- The History Of Creation: I know certain Christians really struggle with the theory of evolution, but to me it is so beautiful that God would have given His creation a built-in mechanism to change and adapt to a mutable world, and to equip them to fulfill His desire in Genesis for His creation to spread throughout the whole world, with all of its different ecological niches. If biological information were not stored in the sequences of DNA and RNA the way it is, with its propensity for the propagation of small yet biologically significant errors, evolution may not have been possible, and mass extinction would have been the result instead. A lot of the research we support examines ancient DNA, or patterns of related DNA sequence from different species, letting us see the graceful flexibility of life responding to adversity as its Creator equipped it to do.
- Harnessing Creation: Finally, a significant amount of the research we are involved in touches on issues that directly affect people – experiments examining how exposure to different chemicals and medicines influence our bodies’ microbiomes, or which genes spur the growth of tumors, or which genes are signals that a particular drug may be effective against a particular cancer or disease. Here we can honor God by supporting research that serves people, that is striving to make a better world and work for the flourishing of humanity.
- Accuracy and Attention To Detail: The researchers who use our facility trust us to handle their samples and their data with accuracy, honesty, and thoroughness. If I cut corners I can jeopardize an entire experiment. If I use analytic software to skew the data when I’m processing it to return to the researcher, I can derail or delay scientific understanding just to get a good-looking short-term result. So if I’m going to honor God with my work, I need to do my best whenever I’m handling samples: I need to ensure that everything is documented and tracked accurately, I need to pay attention to the details of a protocol or the results of a QC test, and I need to be upfront about admitting mistakes so that they aren’t perpetuated.
- Efficiency: Science, in academia at any rate, is carried out on the taxpayers’ dime. We survive on government grants! If I am wasteful with the resources we have, that affects the funding available for other projects (not to mention it is definitely not sustainable. The plastic and biohazard waste we generate normally is already depressing, without adding more due to inefficiency!) So here I can honor God by being a good steward of the resources we have and honoring the trust our community gives us by awarding us the funding (or that researchers give us by choosing our facility for their sequencing work).
- Expertise: Most of the researchers who use our core are not experts in sequencing. It is just a part of their scientific journey. So they rely on us to help them decide on the parameters that will give them the statistic power they need to get meaningful data, and they often rely on us to help them prepare their samples and understand their data. I can honor God as I work with them by being helpful, patient, and informative; by communicating respectfully with them; and by not taking advantage of their ignorance. It can be frustrating when a researcher asks for details about an experiment we completed five years ago or changes their mind about their experiment just as we’re about to get started on it after weeks of planning, but it’s also a chance to show them love and become a servant, to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.
I’m linking up with This Ain’t the Lyceum today and Kelly has some beautiful thoughts on disability and the passing of a member of her parish in addition to her regular humor, so I encourage you to visit! I’d also love to hear any thoughts you have about your own vocations and how they can be lived out in and for God.