I read through the reply from mh6 and thought, ‘well I could just leave it there’…but I can’t…
Regardless of the kind of project that you’re undertaking (e.g. undergrad., postgrad., doctoral, postdoc junior group leader etc.), it seems to me of fundamental importance that you know why you are doing it (before you start?).
If you’re towards the undergrad/postgrad/doctoral side of the spectrum, then I would have thought that the reasoning behind the project would have been explained/evident from your group’s focus and past research?
If you’re towards the other end of the spectrum, then I assumed you would be able to answer the question as it would have been in your research proposal? I can’t see how that would have slipped through the appointments committee…
Of course, it could be that you are involved in basic research. In which case, the direct (or even indirect link) between what you are doing and some translational benefit might not be directly apparent. For example, when I was working at the LMB in Cambridge, we undertook work on cell patterning designed to undercover fundamental mechanisms.
The link between the kind of research I was undertaking and something that could be applied to human disorders (for example) was not as evident or really essential. But, then the reason for doing the research was not to develop a clinical solution.
However, in the context of a human genetics department, such research (using a model organism with all the benefits mentioned by mh6) might be seen as laying the groundwork for future medical advances. I also worked at the other extreme in the field of psychiatric genetics and we (the research community) lived to regret (to some extent at least)
that much was promised from the new genetics…finding the cause…finding a cure…finding a new drug etc but very little has come of these expectations.
All of that said, I guess I would really sit down and ask myself…hmmm, where is my focus here? Is it set by the department/group I am working in…by my interests (which are acceptable to my chair or group leader) or something else?
If you look on the web there are a number of groups using C. elegans to study innate immunity and pathogen infection…they must have at some point (when they were looking for a suitable model/system/approach) asked the same question…or, more likely, came from a group where the question had already been answered.
I don’t want to sound negative, but at a time when there is a tendency to bend as far as possible our research focus/interest to get funding, we have to be careful that we don’t fall foul trying to find imaginary links between our work and something that will immediately benefit humankind and in doing so diminish the validity of asking basic questions. Sometimes it’s enough to say 'I’m researching X because we don’t know how it works…and…because it’s interesting?