We all think that scientists have crazy hair, wear lab coats and are geniuses. Looking at myself, 2 of 3 ain't bad; genius I am not. Is crazy hair and being insanely smart to the point of social-awkwardness really what makes a scientist?
Lynds and I often chat about what it means to be a scientist. Lynds has just finished her PhD, and I am heading towards the end of mine (in a 'how-long-is-a-piece-of-string way). Lynds often discusses scientific life, and stereotypes on her blog. One day she pointed out that many of us pursuing scientific careers aren't necessarily that intelligent, just have strong interests. This is very true and it got me thinking about why are we suitable to do a PhD in the first place, and what makes us scientists.
If we look into peer-review or Google for what makes a scientist, we find ideas such as; ability to question things, productivity through peer-reviewed literature, balancing efficiency and enjoyment, ability to be impartial, observant and diligent. The list goes on. Yahoo had some terrible answers to this question, including being smart, having good grades, 'being good at science... whatever that means', being good at maths etc. This only negatively portrays scientists as being smart geeks, rather than someone who pursues knowledge and answers. But what really makes a scientist and who are they?
Do these people look like Scientists to you?
Curiosity: For most scientists, the thing that drives us is our curious natures. We ask questions like: Why does that work? How does it work? How can i make that work better? Asking questions of everything is what scientists do. It drives education, passion and ideas.
Passion: Like Lynds suggested, we all have a strong interest in something academic. This leads us to wanting to learn more about it, and in some ways pursue a career in that direction. However, it doesn't just stop at 'keen-interest', but devours us in passionate rants and love for the science. Blogging, teaching, pursuing ideas when others disagree, all demonstrate a love and a passion for the art of science.
Creativity and Problem Solving = Idea: Scientists are faced with questions, and to answer these questions we use logical thinking and bursts of creativity! We sit and think about problems and list ways to solve them: problem solving/logic. For example, if you want to make your car more powerful, you would list ways that you could do this. We then work out how this would actually work and in what form: creativity. Working out exactly how to make it your car more powerful may require some creativity, like adapting a part to suit your car. Putting your solutions together with your creative method gives you an idea.
A-Ha Moments: Ideas may come in a 'a-ha!' moment. One of my supervisors, Dr John Field, was recently explaining to our Honours Student that the answers won't come easily. Good answers and good ideas come a 2pm while having a bath; moments when you mull life and information. For me, most of these moments are in my sleep, in the shower, before I go to bed, and sometimes just when hanging out with friends (that is why I seem to day dream or pull out my phone and viciously type notes, sorry). Those moments could transpire into a new idea, new way of thinking, new technology or add to the body of scientific work; something original or different.
Synthesis and Execution of Ideas: Once you have come up with a list of ideas, you need to try them out. Learning about all sorts of random stuff, being able to pull it together and they try it out is a lot harder than you think. You have to be organised, rational, logical and pragmatic. It can be terribly boring doing the same thing 500 times in the pursuit of the answer. However you need to try your ideas (in a robust manner) before you can say you have found an answer to a problem.
Persistence and Perseverance: Things go wrong and perseverance and persistence is needed in executing ideas. Angus blew up one of his newly-made inventions the other day by putting through the wrong voltage. We spent the morning looking for new components so he can build it again. When failure happens, and it will, you have to be able to keep on pursuing the idea, keep trying or work out how to modify the problem/solution to try and get it to work. Sheer will-power, crossed with passion and creativity will make you persevere the answer.
Humble, but Confident: The most humble person I know is Australia's leading research scientist in Fire Ecology, Dr Malcolm Gill. You would not think that Malcolm was a leading researcher when you met him. He is softly spoken, open to ideas, and curious. However, he is also confident in his ideas. You have to be humble and understand that there is so much more to know, but also communicate your ideas how how they can be incorporated in the pursuit of answers.
I am a scientist!
Forget about wacky geniuses! The girl (or guy) next door could be a scientist. You could be a scientist! It isn't about intelligence, how good we are at math or appearance that makes us a scientist. It is the way we think about things that allows us to have a scientific career. We may not be geniuses, but we do come up with some pretty cool ideas and our reward is discovering or inventing something new.
I would love to hear more ideas about what you thinks makes a scientist. Drop me an idea in the Comments below.