At some point, we have all pretended to be James Bond. After all what is not awesome about being a secret agent? You travel to exotic locations, drink martinis, fight villains, and then save the world. Now you are probably wondering what direction this article will go from here. Will I talk about how scientists work at M16? Am I going to talk about real world scientific espionage? Am I going to explain how Bond’s invisible car would work in real life? No, I’m going to argue that while I did not grow up to be James Bond, I am training to be an equally important character, Q.
Q or the Quartermaster was the head of the research and development division of M16, and the one to provide James Bond with all of his cool gadgets. He was in fact based on the real life gadgeteer, Charles Fraser-Smith who worked for the Ministry of Supplies during World War II. So why would I argue that being a Ph.D. is like being Q? Bear with me a second.
In the fight against disease, medical doctors (MDs), are a bit like 007. They are trained professionals, who work out in the field (or in this case hospitals and clinics). They wear suits (or lab coats) and use specialized equipment. Then of course, they are trying to save the world, or technically the sick people of the world.
Now there are a lot of doctors who have Doctorate of Philosophy degrees (PhDs) instead of MDs. If these doctors work in medicine, they normally do not focus on treating patients. Instead they may focus on basic research, the scientific research that increases our understanding of how the world works. Instead of asking how do we treat this disease, they ask how does this disease function? Other PhD scientists use this research to develop new treatment options. Essentially, PhD scientists are research and development for all of the fun toys that the MDs use to help people.
Now this is not a hard and fast rule. There are many PhDs who also take an active interest in treating patients (Q sometimes showed up in the field). There are many MDs who take an active interest in basic research, (James Bond sometimes figured out new uses for the gadgets that Q hadn’t figured out). In fact some people have two degrees and are known as MD-PhDs. At the same time, there can sometimes be a little animosity between MDs and PhDs, similar to 007 and Q. The PhDs, just like Q, may feel that the MDs don’t appreciate the hard work that goes into research. While the MDs, just like 007, can feel that PhDs, disregard the importance of working in the field. However, in general both MD and PhD doctors hold mutual respect for each other and the work they do. If you watch the interactions between 007 and Q, you will notice that despite the teasing, there is always a sense of mutual respect. At the end of the day, 007 and Q did care about each other.
There is a downside to being Q. Patients meet the doctors and nurses who treat them. However, they will never meet the numerous people the studied their diseases, developed and tested the treatments prescribed to them, or any of the other roles scientists take on to help people. James Bond did save the world on numerous occasions, but he needed the help of Q, M and all the other people in M16 working for the same goal.
We have all enjoyed the interactions between Q and 007 for many years now. I hope you all enjoy the release of Spectre, the twenty fourth James Bond film, with Daniel Craig as 007 and Ben Whishaw as Q. Then the next time you see your doctor, ask them if they have a license to save, or if they take their coffee shaken not stirred.
THE MOTLEY ADVOCATE: I AM A CHRISTIAN, A BIOLOGIST, A FICTION WRITER AND AN AMATEUR AT MANY OTHER THINGS. MY ARTICLES ARE OFTEN SOME COMBINATION OF THESE ELEMENTS. I DON’T HAVE A TWITTER BUT YOU CAN E-MAIL ME THROUGH THE SCIENCE ACES E-MAIL (SCIENCE.ACES15@GMAIL.COM) .
This article is dedicated to the memory of Joshua David Ruff (1989-2012), who was a true James Bond fan and was forcibly retired from the field too early.