I am Science

A couple of weeks I saw a call out to scientists on Twitter to share their story on how they became scientists using the hashtag #IamScience. It quickly became clear that the route of being excellent at high school science followed up with fantastical results at university and completing a PhD wasn’t the norm. It existed and I know people who have achieved this and I suffer moments of jealousy because my path wasn’t like that. To get a sense of the tweets that came out, watch the following video.

I have to admit that I didn’t join in despite being a scientist and my persistent call to scientists to let people know that the lab coat doesn’t define them. I stayed quiet feeling like a hypocrite. The path to where I am today as a scientist is unusual and there are some things I would like to obliterate from my memory. I don’t want to give a sanitised representation of science but some things are so incredibly painful to bring up but there are some things that I can share. I want to share these not because I want you to pity me or give me a pile of compliments. I made it. Just. I have made it, thousands don’t. I’m lucky. I am about to tell you and the world things that I wish I could tell students when they ask me whether science is hard but I chicken out for fear of scaring anyone away or deemed too negative to be placed in front of an audience ever again.

  • A high school physics teacher told me, “I can’t explain this any simpler. Maybe you should take another class.”
  • A high school math teacher said, “You don’t deserve an A in my class” and then consistently awarded me B grades no matter what I did. By the end of Year 10, I hated mathematics.
  • In my final year of high school I failed Calculus but I earned a Distinction in first year university Calculus. That Distinction still feels good today. I have kept the letter inviting me to consider a degree in mathematics.
  • At university, one chemistry lecturer I once respected told me that I would never be good enough for research. Four months ago, this same lecturer was suggesting PhD research projects for me to consider.
  • I have been told, “You’re good at chemistry, for a woman.”
  • I’ve been unemployed as a scientist for 25 continuous months and barely managed to pay the bills with short term university teaching contracts and government assistance.
Despite this and a bunch of personal crap no one else needs to know, I’m still a scientist. Sometimes I’m working in the lab. Sometimes I’ve got reference books open with an obscure journal article on my computer monitor to piece together a new procedure. And other times I can be found outside covered in dirt toiling away.
I have to admit that the image of me being a super brain scientist is one that cripples me. Sure, I can probably recall enough random facts to help win a pub quiz but it isn’t who I am. I am not super smart or all knowing.
I have spent hours preparing for 15 minute science talks. Most of it fretting over whether I will come away from the stage looking less of the scientist the world expects me to be. Though this year I am going to be more honest about how I became a scientist and maybe the student who gets average grades but loves science does what they love instead of being funnelled elsewhere.


Filed under Science, Science Communication in Action

3 responses to “I am Science

  1. Judith

    I send my Congratulations _again_ … not for the achievements* so much as for the courage in putting this to paper.
    I say not only Congratulations, but a heartfelt Thank You, from one who is accompanying a young one exploring what will be the same issues a generation on (as her Mum did not so very long ago).
    *achievements; as in the ones YOU value as well as the ones others might value and which you don’t hold in such high regard … yet

  2. This is a great post Mags! Isn’t it great how people of such diverse backgrounds and experiences can still be successful in science and make a difference in the world while pursuing their passion. Love the idea of the #Iamscience hashtag that I participated in too.

  3. Melynda Ross

    Thanks for posting-really. I’ll be sharing this with my high school chemistry students and passing the link to the video along to our whole dept. in hopes other students who don’t get to me will see it.

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