Not long ago, I sat next to a Business Man on a plane and we started chatting about random things. We went through the basics of what we do and where we do them etc., and he was very surprised to learn that people such as me exist -- that is, that there are scientist-professors who spend their time researching things about the world. He said that he often watches the Discover Channel and that he particularly likes shows about science and scientists, but he said that these shows gave him the impression that all the really major questions have been solved already.
Au contraire, as we say in my francophone research group. I reeled off a list of Big Questions in my field of Science, though I was aware as I was doing so that there were at least 2 possible opposite responses to this list: (1) How fascinating that there are still so many interesting and essential things for Physical Scientists to figure out; or (2) What have you guys been doing for all these years that you haven't figured these things out yet?
His actual response was a bit more ambiguous; something along the lines of "Well, I guess you can't believe everything you see on TV." But then he wanted to know more about my research, and he asked a lot of questions as I explained my work. His interest seemed genuine, and my hope is that I convinced him that Science is interesting and that Scientists still have many important things to discover.
I am actually not much of a travel-chatter, and prefer to work or read on planes. I don't mind doing the occasional Roving Ambassador of Science thing, however, especially if it takes my mind off the fact that I am on a plane, one of my least favorite places to be.*
* incomplete ranked list of some of my least favorite places to be, in order of decreasing preference, for illustration purposes only: faculty meeting, airplane, viper pit
6 months ago