One public service announcement that I remember vividly from my childhood was an anti-drug TV spot. It starts out showing an egg and the announcer ominously says “This is your brain”. The camera then pans over to a skillet; the egg gets cracked, and then comes the classic line “This is your brain on drugs”. My friends and I used to mock that PSA endlessly because of its frying egg metaphor.
Over the years I have come to the realization that my brain is on “Biology”. The amount of time that I’ve spent in school studying and practicing Biology has permanently rewired how I think about and view the world. Most of the time, I am very happy about this effect. Training to be a biologist has allowed me to learn to think logically, troubleshoot, and generate solutions to complex problems. I think that it’s also allowed me to become a better communicator and serves as an excellent creative outlet. I am a scientist and that means that I experience the world through that lens. I like to think that it makes me the life of the party on nature walks; my family would likely disagree. After a careful inspection of the tenth bracket fungus they are ready to move on while I ponder the wonders of carotenoid biosynthesis that might result in that amazing orange colour. I accept that I am a nerd and fully embrace it.
I have also effectively transmitted “Biology brain” to my children. A few years ago we were eating dinner and talking about dinosaurs. I asked my son what colour he thought that dinosaur skin would have been. This was before the amazing work had been done using fossils to look at melanosomes (pigment containing organelles) in order to extrapolate skin and feather colours. He thought about it for a moment and then answered “Brown and green”. I asked him why he thought that dinosaurs would be brown and green. He answered, “Because they needed to use camouflage to avoid being eaten”. I thought that was an awesome answer that made a lot of sense coming from a six year old.
In the past few weeks I’ve attended workshops with colleagues from a wide range of other departments on campus. I am always surprised and delighted to discover the different ways that each of us looks at the world. I think that regularly experiencing these different viewpoints is one of the big perks of being in academia.