The Scientific Persona Mask

I’ve been a practicing scientist since 1997. That’s the year that I started an undergraduate thesis project. My knowledge of what scientists did up until then was based on the portrayal of scientists in media, film, television, and books. That picture of what a scientist is was very homogeneous. These portrayals weren’t anything like me and that made me uncomfortable. It made me feel like an outsider and an imposter. Everyone has a strong desire to fit in and I was no different. My initial impression is that science was a serious business and that there isn’t much room for levity.

Through most of my academic career I’ve kept my intimate thoughts and ideas close to my chest, often out of fear that they were weird, stupid, or incorrect. What I have learned over the years is that what the scientific enterprise really needs is diversity. I think that the only way to get this diversity is to actively invite and recruit “others” into science. When we increase the diversity of people doing science then we increase the diversity of ideas, approaches, and ways of thinking about science and I think that this will do a lot for the advancement of science.

Several thoughtful posts by other bloggers have started to lift the veil on how different people do science. These posts have also served to highlight that it is people doing science and that we aren’t robots and that emotions have a rightful place in the scientific realm. Most of the scientists that I know have a wide range of talents that often are not directly related to doing their science. These can range from athletics (e.g. biking, hiking, swimming, etc.), hobbies (e.g. playing a musical instrument), or a passionate interest in something (e.g. star gazing, stamp collecting, etc.). I’m constantly surprised by the hidden depths of other scientists, but I really shouldn’t be. People are people after all.

I think that perhaps instead of working so hard to fit in, I should start letting other scientists see the other facets of this particular scientist. Perhaps someone else has a liking for scruffy-looking nerf herders, productivity tips, do-it-yourself manicures, and Settlers of Catan. I’m ready to take off my scientific persona mask and be a real person. Care to join me?

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