Why I am a scientist

J Potter jras at post.its.mcw.edu
Wed Jan 8 00:43:33 EST 1997

I, too, have really enjoyed this thread and thought a bit about why I
enjoy doing science and why I chose it for my career (assuming I stay in
the pipeline :)

I may be an atypical scientist in that I never felt a "calling" or a
love of science as a child.  I certainly never thought I would end up a
scientist!  I had a rather ambivalent attitude towards science until I
took a science class for non-science majors my first year in college. 
The prof was really great and made me want to know more about how all of
this (ie the human body, ecology, etc.) worked.  So I declared a biology
major and am now in the final throes (months!) of my biochemistry Ph.D.  

For me the scientific thrill comes mainly from solving the puzzle and
ordering my little research universe more with each experiment.  I am
extremely analytical and I think that science appeals to me because it
allows for detailed observations under controlled conditions.  Of
course, my mother is a little disappointed that I'm not applying the
analytical thinking skills as a lawyer.  (Sometimes when I go home to my
tiny apartment and look at my monthly stipend, I am too. But I digress.)

One of the greatest feelings for me has been when I've been struggling
to wrap my mind around a certain concept or make sense of some weird
data and suddenly - there it is.  That feeling of understanding
something so well, with such clarity, is hard to describe but it is very
*pure* feeling.

Another cool experience I had was kind of a "eureka!" experience...I was
walking out of the cold room not really thinking about anything and
It was like a piece of a bigger puzzle suddenly fit...putting two pieces
of known information together to go in a new direction.  I've even had
dreams about experiments, or the results of experiments where I can even
see what the data looked like.  No major prophecies yet, though.     

Science is very interesting because it is a mental (and sometimes
physical) challenge to solve problems for which the solutions may be
very useful.  Creativity is used in designing elegant experiments and
opening your mind to see that that pesky "artifact" might actually be
telling you something important.  (Of course, recently, it meant that a
student had been fabricating data!)  

And it is also pretty cool to answer the question "What do you do?" with
the answer, "I'm a scientist." and see the surprise on his/her face.

Back to the dreaded dissertation,

Jennifer Potter, fledgling scientist

Department of Biochemistry
Medical College of Wisconsin
Milwaukee, WI

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