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I recently read this great post on the Terry blog, whereby Elysa talks about preconceived notions of success and how a person’s profession may relate to that. In particular, she used the example of Anne Wintour, the celebrated editor-in-chief of Vogue magazine, who by any measure is “successful,” but because that success is rooted in “fashion,” there are many who may not acknowledge her work as significant.
“they find what I do very amusing.” Anna goes on to describe her siblings and their respected career paths- a brother who works to find housing for those who can’t afford it, a sister who defends the rights of farmers in Latin America, and her brother, the Political Editor of The Guardian. Anna calls her siblings ‘geniuses’ but, clearly hurt, she is explicit that they do not hold the same acknowledgment of her work. Why not?
Add to that, a great comment in the post that details a personal experience:
As a former Fashion Design major with minor in Illustration, I can honestly say I have been in Anna’s shoes. Well maybe not her exact pair of LV stilettos just yet!
A personal story comes to mind to illustrate this . . . Two years ago as I was traveling home for Christmas, a charming young accountant intrigued by my new copy of the Economist initiated a flirtatious conversation we me (I know what you are thinking, Santa did give me an extra Christmas present!). We bantered back and forth on domestic politics and foreign affairs, until he asked me my major . . . needless to say his whole demeanor changed. I went from the feisty sexy female to the small town girl next door. Words like ‘cute’ became more prevalent and the discussion made a sharp turn to the light side.
This all got me thinking about the “scientist” label, and how I’ve seen people react to me when I use it. It’s quite striking actually – there tends to be a little surprise, but also a sort of instant respect that comes along with the title, which I find quite odd given the general skepticism many in the general public seem to have over things like genetic modification and climate change.
The label is also great with young children. Many of you know this already, but it’s very cool to tell school children that you’re a scientist. In fact, I think it’s one of the great perks of the profession – to be able to get children enthusiastic just by telling them what you do (note to those scientists who don’t go to their local schools to chat – you should definitely try it. It’s a marvelous experience, and certainly one that can make you even more passionate about what you do)!
I should note that when I do use the label, I tend to approach it with a focus on my role as an educator – i.e. scientific literacy in general, which presumably is something that everybody agrees is a good thing. In fact, it’s a compelling point that I still label myself a “scientist” when the majority of my work these days is focused on literacy. Maybe this has something to do with the positive connotations you get from the label.
I any event, I’m curious as to what the reaction might be if you label yourself something a little more specific. Say, if you introduce yourself as a “geneticist” or a “climatologist.”
This, I’m sure is something that many ScienceBlog readers have done: You go to a party, you meet some people, introductions are made, and someone inevitably asks “what do you do?”
So what do you say? And what is the reaction?