Three years ago I contemplated the idea of pursuing a PhD in polymer engineering. You know to study the kinetic reaction of epoxy/anhydride/silica insulation systems. Somehow I ended up lying awake at night pondering how science intersects with religion, culture, politics, money and medicine, in an attempt to be more than just a niche scientist sitting in the oh-so-lovely corporate America. How I miss the academic world. A world of discovery, discussion and creativity. Good scientists are very creative and love talking about ideas.
Imagine you are at the cutting edge of knowledge, you read the scientific literature, there is an issue you would like to address, and then you ask (hopefully) a very insightful question and come up with a model of how macrocosm works. And next? Well you want to test your model … usually by performing experiments, while covering all your bases (i.e. with appropriate controls). One of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had as a researcher was peering down at the microscope and seeing something that I know has never been seen in the history of mankind. It’s funny, the first thing you want to do is … woo hoo, tell somebody. I never tire of reading fellow scientists, we are a very curious group.
I remember an anecdote about the late physicist Viktor Weisskopf who loved to tell the story of his old friend Hans Bethe. Bethe was the first to figure out the fusion cycle in our sun.
“Imagine, you’re a post-doc physics instructor, and you check your calculations and realize this must be right. And that night you take your girlfriend out, and you explain to her that you’re the only one in the world who really knows what makes the stars shine. Isn’t that remarkable..?”
[Long pause while the audience soaks in the wonder of it all]
“Yes, imagine that: to be a post-doc and actually have a girlfriend!” 😀