Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Why I Am A Scientist (according to my family)

Perhaps because there are no other scientists or professors on my mother's side of the family, my mother and her sisters have constructed an explanation for why they think I became a scientist. This family legend involves some childhood experiences provided by my maternal grandparents and other relatives. Now, every summer when I visit the ancestral home, the legend is retold. Someone will say to me "Do you think you are a scientist because ...?" and then the story is retold. I always respond with some variation of "possibly".

I think they have created (and often repeat) this explanation to find a way to connect my strange life to my family more. For this reason I never dispute the story, despite its being somewhat bizarre. Also, I don't necessarily have a better explanation. I didn't have any important science mentors or other early influences of that sort. I always liked my science classes in school, but I was, if anything, more inclined towards literature, languages, and history. My family was shocked when I discovered a passion for a particular field of science in college, and it wasn't long after that they started developing the family legend for Why I Am A Scientist.

This past week, I heard variations on the story at least 4 times. I replied "possibly", "perhaps", "maybe", and "I suppose that could be it".

15 comments:

Jane said...

I can so relate to this story. At least your family has come up with a good story....my family just accredits my techiness to weirdness. :)

dropout said...

You should plot the variations in why you are a scientist and then slap a best fit line on top. The y-intercept is defining moment that set you on the path of scientist and the slope defines the rate of your growth into female science professor and blogger extraordinaire.

anon said...

"You should plot the variations in why you are a scientist and then slap a best fit line on top. The y-intercept is defining moment that set you on the path of scientist and the slope defines the rate of your growth into female science professor and blogger extraordinaire."

Huh!? That makes absolutely no sense at all! What the hell would be the axes!? I'm guessing that the x-axis is age and y-axis is... what? Scientific acumen? Well, then the y-intercept will not necessarily intersect the y-axis, and even if it does, you'll be at age 0 and your conclusions based on that will be completely worthless. Also, the graph is likely to look like a cube root function with some factors added in to make it decay to 0 at age 0 and you're just naturally assuming that it's a linear regression.

You'll have no correlation at all. In short: Worst. Idea. Ever.

No grant for you.

Dr. Lisa said...

In my family, there are two variants of the story. In one, it's because my brother used to perform the Vulcan mind meld on me when I was still in the crib. In the other, it's because my sister took me to see Star Wars when it came out. Both sound reasonable to me.

dropout said...

"Huh!? That makes absolutely no sense at all! What the hell would be the axes!? I'm guessing that the x-axis is age and y-axis is... what? Scientific acumen? Well, then the y-intercept will not necessarily intersect the y-axis, and even if it does, you'll be at age 0 and your conclusions based on that will be completely worthless. Also, the graph is likely to look like a cube root function with some factors added in to make it decay to 0 at age 0 and you're just naturally assuming that it's a linear regression.

You'll have no correlation at all. In short: Worst. Idea. Ever.

No grant for you."

WTF? Serious over-analysis of what was just a sarcastic comment. Hang out with some science students for a while and you will see the sarcasm. They try to slap a best fit line on everything and call it quality data analysis.

Thanks for the complimentary comments on my idea. I love it when people tell me my ideas are the worst ever. Even better if they say they aren't fundable. Many revolutionary advances in science and technology were not fundable ideas. Have fun chasing grant money with your small, safe ideas.

Thanks for reminding why I am a science dropout. I would continue this discussion further, but I have to go plot some of my most recent findings. I'm pretty sure that the graph will show that there is a directly proportional relationship between the number of technical terms used in a blog comment and insecurity.

Have a nice day.

Helen said...

I suppose, "Oh, didn't you know? It's because I'm adopted," wouldn't go over well. :D

Mirandian said...

If you were more inclined towards literature, languages......then when & how did you veered towards science?!

Anonymous said...

We need the story! =)

anyway, the search for explanations is at the heart of Science, so it sounds like your family is pretty scientifically minded, in their own way ;)

Ms.PhD said...

Um, because it has to be nurture since it's obviously not nature?

I find it interesting that they have to excuse this aberrant behavior by rationalizing the source using... illogic?

(how was that, sciencey sounding enough?)

Jennifer said...

You have my heartfelt empathy. I just spent five days with MY extended family, too, all crammed into a single beach house, so the family tensions could really come to the fore. As the adopted child of fundamentalist Christians, I can relate to being the family freak -- and my family, too, has their own "mythology" about why I turned out so differently (science writer, intellectually oriented, skeptical, agnostic, childless, and until last year, resolutely single and happy with my "plight").

At least they've managed to surmount the traditional gender roles when it comes to cooking, doing the dishes, etc. People mostly pitched in as needed, or took turns. So progress CAN be made.

Fourier Analyst said...

Just found your blog via Experimental Mommy. Isn't it frustrating that your family all need to figure out what motivated you, when this likely would not have been the case if you had decided to be a chef, nurse, elementary teacher, etc.? Do they ask the same questions of your siblings and cousins regarding their chose professions? I am frustrated with the world in that more US citizens (not just girls) do not seem to be motivated towards the hard sciences and engineering. This is not the case in many other countries in the world, and it is a disturbing trend!

anon said...

"I'm pretty sure that the graph will show that there is a directly proportional relationship between the number of technical terms used in a blog comment and insecurity."

Oh come one, I didn't use a single technical term. You obviously can't detect our 'scientific' sense of humor. My post was complimentary to yours. You were supposed to continue the 'back and forth' with me for a few more posts, but there was a danger that it would end badly. It's hard to convey most humor in writing.

lee the red said...

haha I can relate to this too. I got so used to being called a nerd, I kinda think its grown to be a bit of a compliment because I'm the only one in the family.

drive-by lurker said...

For next time, maybe you could think of a way to turn the question around, with humor and grace, while still making the point that for the most part, you're a scientist because you're interested in science and like doing it. For instance, if Aunt Sue brings up The Explanatory Anecdote, you could counter with, "Yep. That's why I'm a scientist -- just like how Uncle Joe went into the ministry to make amends for when he peed on the Bible as a toddler." (plug in whichever of Uncle Joe's True Tales of Lore seems marginally relevant.)

Most likely, everyone will chuckle and move on, but such a gambit might open the door to a more serious exchange about events or aptitudes that led you and Uncle Joe to your respective callings, for the enlightenment of all parties.

:) said...

I'm a biologist, and I remember a gathering in my community where all the women sat around introduced themselves and their background. It went something like this "Hi I'm X and I'm a teacher." and then the next one also a teacher and so on and so forth. One woman said "Hi my name is X and I'm a doctor (in Hebrew Rofah)." All of the women murmured "Oh how nice a baker (in Hebrew Ofah)" like it was impossible that a woman could be a doctor. I almost left right there!
(www.imabiologist.blogspot.com)