Design by PS

comment to '2 cool 4 skool'

this is in response to an entry in chris’ blog entitled 2 cool 4 skool in which he mentioned this article.

i remember noticing during my first few days at university, people sitting around, reading. this was new to me. it was refreshing. i had always hidden that i was ‘smart’, that i read for pleasure. after school i’d meet up with my friends, we hang out, mess about or play soccer. i’d then go home, do my homework and usually read late into the night. none of my friends knew this, they were actually surprised when i told them i was going to university. i was the first person in my family to go to university and was in a way an example for my parents friends. many would point out my achievement to their own kids (i didn’t know this until years later). so while i was an example for the parents, the kids, my peers, thought i was wasting my time. why wouldn’t i just go out and get a job and start earning money? why did i want to do 4 more years of school and put myself through hours of study and exams? while i was hanging out with the cool kids, my best friend was the ‘leader of the pack’, most thought i was an imposter. university was an environment were i could relax and show that side of me. that said you were always more of a hero if you went out drinking all night long, than if you got an a on your exam.

i came to the us to do postdoctoral work and my experiences echo that of the indian student. when i return to my homeland i am more likely to get funding because of my us experience, because the us is still considered a leader in science. but the more international conferences i attend, i see that this is changing. it is true that a shift is taking place. i notice here in the us that while people recognise the excellent work someone is doing, there isn’t ever admiration for the amount of work you are putting into it. the long unpaid hours or the weekends spent in the lab. you are definitely not cool if you are seen as dedicated and passionate. if you list a scientist on your top 5 wish list of people you’d like to meet, some one will call out ‘nerd alert’. of course this is a generalisation, and occurs less within the academic environment, but it still does happen particularly amongst the graduate students and younger postdocs. i guess by the time you get onto tenure track those people have left science.

scientists are almost always portrayed as ‘mad scientists’, people tinkering with nature, making babies in test tubes, being socially inept, and creating evil, harmful inventions. i think as long as this continues, scientists will never be respected by the population as a whole. there is definitely a very skewed view as to what is popular and cool. sports people, film stars, pop bands are revered and most people dream of being like them or living their lives, while scientists and artists don’t even rate. i agree with tim that there needs to be a major shift, mostly coming from the popular media, but i don’t think this is going to happen. money is at stake. i know this is a simplification, but i do believe that money is a major cause of this imbalance.