The combination of too much time spent alone in dark cold rooms watching colourless liquids dripping into other colourless liquids, a strongly developed sense of cynicism and access to the internet has led to an explosion of tweets that puncture the veil of scientists being aesthetes pursuing the truth. One of my favourite hashtags is #overlyhonestmethods and @AcademicsSay reposts many of these, I would thoroughly recommend reading them, though maybe after you have read this. Another science hashtag that is doing the rounds is #whywedoresearch. I suspect we also need an alternative #whyweREALLYdoresearch, some of them being:
I was rubbish at sport at school
It’s indoors work with no heavy lifting
Because in science I appear normal
Maybe next time will be the leap home
How Did I end up Here?
But then I thought a bit more about it and wondered why I actually do research and “How did I end up here?” There is a certain waking-up-in-a-cold-sweat/take the red pill feeling to the phrase How did I get here and there are times when I do ask myself this question with more stress on the Here than the How. But focussing on the how and stretching a bit the answer is: Johnny Ball, Tomorrow’s world, an aptitude for numbers and factual recall, a primary school science teacher who let us burn, explode and investigate our way through the chemical store once a term, a secondary school teacher with a love of wine and another who challenged the widely held assertion of students that it was only interesting or of value if on the curriculum, a professor who stored his cheese in different temperature controlled labs throughout the university for optimum maturation and a moment of clarity in the woods in northern New Jersey.
Why I do research
As to the why, science is cool, landing a washing machine on a comet, splitting the atom, eradicating small pox, solving the structure of DNA, glow in the dark jellyfish cool. Science is infinite, there is no solution to any of the problems, with each answer spinning off another series of deeper more fascinating questions. You never have to grow out of the “yes but why” stage of toddlerhood and get to ask questions about everything. It also impresses my son, I may not be able to kick a ball in a straight line, but I am a white coat wearing, Scientist and when he grows up he wants to be a professional footballer who does research – the mind boggles as to what the redtops would make of that! Finally, there is (arguably) some value to the work, though it is a bit of stretch sometimes to see how my pipetting miniscule volumes of colourless (not clear) liquid will change the world/ save lives/ rebalance the global economy, there is always a just maybe feeling to it, which I arrogantly like to tell myself you wouldn’t necessarily get by being a tax accountant – though in part this is just self-justification to make up for the lack of salary. Whilst what we do most days does not tick all of the above boxes we do slowly chisel away at the rockface allowing these glimpses to be seen.