For the better part of the last 10 years whenever anyone asked me "what do you do?" my answer would always be "I'm a student". It's not untrue, but it never told the whole story. Yes, I was a student, still am too as I'm pursuing my PhD, but I'm also a scientist, something I haven't actively acknowledged.
Recently though I suddenly came to the realisation that yes, I am indeed a scientist, and I started thinking about the things that actually make me feel like I am a scientist, which is what I want to share here in this post.
When people don't understand what I do
After telling people I'm a student and that I'm doing scientific research, their follow-up question will be "what research are you doing?". I'd often try to explain it in the simplest way I can, and while some people do manage to follow my explanation, others just zone out and nod along blankly. Sometimes my family members just pretend to doze off as I'm speaking. It's all in good fun, and it reminds me that the work I do isn't something most people will understand, which then reminds me that I'm a scientist.
Presenting at scientific conferences
Being surrounded by peers and colleagues is a great way to remind yourself about what you do, and presenting my research at a scientific conference is exactly the kind of environment that does that for me. This year has been a bit different though because of the pandemic. I've presented at two conferences this year and both were online, so I wasn't really "surrounded" by peers and colleagues, though it was a new and unique experience.
People asking me about bioscience
It's always a good ego boost when people consult you about your expertise, and during this pandemic I've had a number of friends ask me about various topics such as herd immunity, vaccine safety, antibody testing etc. I often take for granted what I consider to be "general knowledge", which is actually scientific knowledge that I only know because of my education. So when people ask me about stuff that I consider to be basic scientific knowledge, it reminds me of just how specialised my education is. Makes me appreciate my education more and I love being able to share it with friends who approach me for clarification.
When I get a paper published
One of the most specific tasks associated with academia is publishing your research findings in peer reviewed journals, and every time I get a paper accepted for publication I'm reminded of my vocation. I've probably read hundreds, if not thousands of academic papers in my years as a student and scientist, so to actually see a paper with my name listed as the author is a great feeling. I currently have one under review and I'm writing another, so hopefully I'd get these two published in the first half of 2021.
Wearing my lab attire
The main incident that inspired me to write this post was seeing myself in my lab attire earlier this week. Lab coat, latex gloves, and because of the pandemic, a face mask. This is the most common of the five reasons listed in this post that I encounter, so it carries the most weight for me. I do it almost every day, and when I do it's like putting on a uniform. It's going to be quite sad once I finish my lab work, because I don't know when I'll wear a lab coat or gloves ever again. Once I get my PhD the amount of hands-on research I'll be doing will be drastically decreased as I pass on the work to my future students.
What field of work are you in? Are there any incidents or occurrences that remind you of your vocation, or that make you feel like an expert?