Thursday, 7 August 2014

Preconceptions of a Scientist

Whenever people ask me what I study at University and I tell them I'm a chemistry student, I usually get responses along the lines of:

 'Wow, you must be really intelligent!' or 'Ooh, aren't you a clever girl?', (which is possibly the most patronising comment ever).

My own personal favourite is 'Oh, but you're so pretty!', simply because it's unrelated to my field and I still can't figure out whether it's a compliment or an insult.

I've recently discussed what people perceive scientists to 'look like', however my experience has told me that these preconceptions of scientists are much more complex than simply appearance. I've even had medicine students ask me what I study and when I tell them they respond with something like 'Eww really? Chemistry's so hard. You must be so clever.' I wanted to remind them that they study medicine, the most competitive University course there is. People have this idea that all scientists are genius' (what is the plural of genius?!) and we sit at desks all day scribbling down complex equations. This may be true of some scientists, who are extremely intelligent and probably make the rest of us look a little dim, however we're not all Einstein and I think this is where the preconceived idea comes from. Einstein is the most well known scientist on Earth and probably the first person people think of when they imagine a scientist. Therefore I think people's thought process is something along the lines of:

Einstein = Scientist, therefore if you are a scientist you must be on the same level as Einstein! Which I know on a personal level isn't true. I am most definitely not a genius. Sure, I have a brain like everyone else, but I am a scientist because I love science and I enjoy it and that is the reason I am good at it. Not because I have an IQ of 1 billion. (Disclaimer: I'm pretty sure you can't have an IQ of 1 billion.)

I think a lot of careers have stereotypes but those of people in STEM subjects are actually quite damaging and I think is one of the reasons there is a lack of women in these fields. Take the 'Big Bang Theory'. It's a funny show and I love it, but when I look at characters like Amy Farrah Fowler, I wonder if I would have chosen a career in science if I had grown up with her character. Probably not. Fortunately I'm lucky enough to know that most female scientists aren't like her at all. Mayim Bialik who plays Amy, is a real representation of a women in science! She's amazing and funny and beautiful with a passion for the subject; she's a true inspiration. However Amy is frumpy, socially awkward and perceived as 'boring'. Maybe I'm taking this too seriously but she really doesn't represent the majority and personally, I don't know anyone like her which makes me wonder where this stereotype comes from.

Yes as scientists,we are a little geeky but we like to have fun as much as anyone else. We love the Universe and the origin of it, we love the Earth, we love the organisms that inhabit the Earth, we love invisible forces the act on you and the atoms and molecules that make up everything. We love the chemicals whizzing around your brain as you're reading this. In general, we love life and the origins of life. How can you possibly say that's boring?
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