A message from a scientist of the next generation.

Science. If there was one word to describe science, it would be convoluted. Science is indeed a world full of infinite possibilities – where international theories accepted for hundreds of years get overturned by a few years of scientific research; where there will still be adherents to centuries-old, outdated theories in a technologically advanced world; where despite the perceived simplicity of life on earth, there exists forces beyond that of the atomic and molecular level. Science has become of such academic par nowadays that I believe it has isolated some of its future generations, only welcoming the most intelligent of the current population and encouraging the rest of its “wannabe science lovers” to pick up a Scientific American at the local drugstore and settle for work at the local McDonalds for the next 20 years or so. No, I’m kidding.

But as a student contemplating in a career in the sciences, I will bluntly say this: I’m not exposed to the science that I should be. Though this might be to the limited nature of the science curriculum at my school which is highly concentrative on the social sciences (which has allowed me to develop a great love for essay writing and government), I had to endeavor on my own to develop my science experience beyond the classroom. And a lot of the science experience that I am currently involved in right now is a result of pure serendipity, luck that I happened to type in the right words into the Google search box, lucky that after insipidly xeroxing papers as a “medical volunteer”, (as a side note: Are there any hospital student volunteers out there that actually do cool and interesting work? Because the most interesting thing that I did was transfer calls from nurses to their respective doctors, and on a scale from 1-10 on the cool scale, I would rate that as a 2.47.) I was able to talk to Dr. Iwamoto and perform research in his lab this summer.

The fact is that science has become too exclusive rather than inclusive. Living in the suburbs of Southern California where I am within a decent distance to all types of environments – city, mountain, and desert, I have seen it with my own eyes. If one doesn’t go to a “magnet” high school or a specialized STEM-promoting high school, the exposure of science is limited beyond one’s classroom. Moreover, it is the people who go to these schools that are only offered or exposed to such opportunities as internships, fellows, and camps that expose one to the different fields of science.

I remember when I went to an annual meeting presentation for a science association in which student researchers presented their annual projects with a Powerpoint slideshow to a select audience. I was interested in during research through the program and I attended the meeting to see what I would be getting into. I read the students’ abstracts in an accompanying book with all the projects in it. Here, I’ll grab it and type the first abstract title I see.

“Expression of multipotency markers in adult adipocyte-derived stem cells as a function of time”.

Here are the few thoughts that ran through my head when first reading this:
1) The only words I understood in that whole phrase was “stem cells and function of time”.
2) What?

The academic jargon of science is indeed a toughie. So tough that I didn’t know what this girl’s abstract even SAID. But mysteriously, after a summer at the lab, I reread it.. and I deciphered the mysterious message of what was once an undecodable abstract. But the ordinary science-loving student who took even AP Biology and passed with a 5 wouldn’t even know what this abstract said for the life of him or her. The esoteric language of science is so exclusive that to even learn a bit of what a scientific article one says, one must go through years and years of learning and in-depth training. And too often is this training started at an older age than appropriate, often at a collegiate level.

I propose a change to what is accepted in society. Yes, we want the brightest students to contribute to our continually changing field of science, but we also want the eager students – the students who don’t have as strong of a background, but are willing – with their every dedication, availability, and science-loving mind – to take all of the science they can in. There are students out there who love the concepts, love the words in their textbooks, and can visualize each theory with detailed pictures in their mind. But, that’s not what science is. Science isn’t about rote memorization of what has already been done. Science isn’t about knowing the strides someone else has done for the field and simply being in awe of it through the distant words of a textbook.

Rather, science is about innovation, the discovery of seeing the same ol world through a new pair of lenses. Has one realized that? That all the findings we are exposed to are simply new ways of looking at the world that has been constantly evolving, yet providing living things a habitat for billions of years.

So I beseech the current scientists of this generation – the wise devotees and proteges of Darwin, Lyell, and Curie – nurture and educate the younger generation, those who are eager to be just like you. Your legacy of knowledge can only be sustained if passed down, if shared to others who will take your place. Make your enthusiasm and love for the craft contagious and start young. Undergraduates are already at too mature of a level to only be beginning to find out the real world of science beyond the dissection of a frog. Yet, every start is the beginning of a journey itself. Take us as your own and allow students to become your proteges, to become the legacies of yourselves.

Speaking for those who want to have a career in the sciences as their future occupation, we truly do want to learn, and though we are comprised of different intelligence levels, backgrounds, and environments, we all have a mission to instill value in a world that seems to need inspiration and goodwill at every constant moment it can get. We will apply your knowledge and accumulate our own as well for the betterment of this world.

2 thoughts on “A message from a scientist of the next generation.

  1. Bernadette:

    I can identify with your feelings, to a great extent. However, I would like to let you know that your experience is not unique to this later generation, but was true even when I was going to High School back in the early 70’s, in northern California (Silicon Valley area).

    It was only as I pursued my interests both within and beyond the classroom that I was able to see what was actually available.

    My advice? Read all that interests you that you can get hour hands on! You have an advantage I didn’t: The Internet!

    Yes, it can be difficult to sift through the chaff to find the nuggets of gold on the internet, but those nuggets are certainly there.

    I had to content myself with encyclopedias and libraries.

    Yes, the language of just about any specialized field can be daunting, and, yes, the practitioners seldom need so much of the “jargon” they spout (probably more to impress than to inform). But so it goes, unfortunately.

    (Admittedly, as far as I have seen, the primary fields that appear to be the worst offenders for “jargon”, in my opinion, are biology and statistics. Since you appear to have an interest in biology/medicine, I don’t envy you the road you have set before you. However, I do wish you the best of luck.)

    Take care, and please don’t let our science averse society discourage you.


    P.S. Yes, our society does appear to gravitate toward the softest of the soft sciences: the social sciences. Perhaps it is the least “threatening”? I don’t know.

  2. Brilliant essay. I could not agree more. This is an excellent example of the commodoziation of our economy. There are very few experts left. We have all been taught to be Xerox machines.

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