It’s not just Scott Kern who thinks that science is only about tedious benchwork and that grad students should be boring robots moving small volumes of liquid around 20 hours a day for the greater good. An unscientific analysis of the 169 comments and numerous comment thumbs ups of Hydrocalypse Industries’ most popular video shows that a significant percentage of the commenters who aren’t saying something completely inane, off topic, or conspiracy-theory laden are criticizing us for not working hard enough.
I hopefully don’t need to go into detail about how many hours we are all actually working at the bench or to reassure you that walking around the lab for half an hour with a camera and having people do silly dance moves while their gels are running in no way hampers the amount or quality of work being done in our lab, but I do want to go into more detail about what people are saying and what it reflects about the public image of scientists.
Of the 8% of commenters who came to our rescue, arguing with the “shouldn’t they be working” crowd, many emphasized the idea that we probably weren’t “official scientists.” Like happydecko, who writes “It’s so obvious that these guys are students, so these are young people who are not responsible for making any serious inventions, because they are still learning lab skills.” Or acerulestheplace who says “HAHAHAHAH what an ispiration!!! LAB ROMANCE??? but i bet the guys are interns not official scientists… P” Who is an “official scientist” and why don’t we look like this mythical creature? Does the fact that there are no old white guys in our lab make it seem like we are not responsible for making any serious inventions?
In all of this I’m reminded of the amazing “Drawings of Scientists” website that collects drawings done by seventh graders before and after a visit to Fermilab. Before the visit the students draw mostly old dudes with crazy hair, lab coats and bubbling flasks. After seeing real scientists in action, students draw normal looking people because while some scientists do have crazy hair and bubbling flasks most are surprisingly normal and–gasp!–even fun.
Science is done by people, often young and sometimes silly people, who do real research, make real inventions and sometimes even find real treatments for diseases while they are training as graduate students or postdoctoral fellows. Nobody can work all the time, and a little bit of time and creativity can go a long way to make funny and incredibly nerdy videos. It seems like the scientific parody of pop songs video has become a powerful meme (as well as probably the only time many of these students actually wear their lab coats). Here are just a few others I found from students at UC Berkeley that made me LOL:
None of these videos are going to convince anyone other than other nerds that scientists are “cool“, but hopefully it will show those young nerds that scientists aren’t all old, cold and aloof, or pipetting round the clock, and that mixed in between all the hard work it takes to do research you can also find time for some fun.