True Lab Stories: Why I Am Not a Biologist

Every now and then, usually in the summer or early fall, when the sun is shining and it's just pleasant to be outdoors, I find myself almost regretting my career choices. After all, had I chosen a career in the biological sciences, rather than laser physics, I could do my research outside in the nice weather, rather than in a windowless room in the basement.

Of course, every now and then, I hear stories like the one in the talk given by a colleague's summer research students a few weeks ago. He's a plant biologist specializing in moss, and his students went out looking for samples to test their new computer model of light transmission through a certain type of moss. On this expedition, they spent several hours tromping around a local swamp looking for this particular type of moss, during which time they stumbled across a large nest of wasps, and were attacked, getting stung several times each.

And they didn't find any moss.

It's good to be reminded that True Lab Stories come from all different fields, and some of them even take place out in the nice weather. Suddenly, skinning my knuckles tightening ConFlat bolts in a cool, dark room on campus doesn't sound all that bad...

(Of course, one of my colleagues, working on an environmental physics project, took his research students out fishing one day this past summer. Maybe I just need to change subfields...)

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As a (possibly uninteresting) analogue to your story, the main reason why I chose not a physiologist (a decision I sometimes question with all the advances in health science), I decided that sitting in a climate-controlled laboratory with no windows while conducting three hours of pipetting was not my idea of fun. On the other hand, wading in streams, river, and wetlands (even though I get stung and bitten by all manner of insects and spiders in the summer and breaking through ice in the winter) is, IMHO, much better than sitting at a lab bench. Of course, many students (and some faculty) aren't as gung ho about field work as I am.

I guess both sorts of science (indoor and outdoor in this case) are self-selecting to some extent.

Suddenly, skinning my knuckles tightening ConFlat bolts in a cool, dark room on campus doesn't sound all that bad...

You know, it's probably ok to turn the lights on when you're doing vacuum work.

Student giving a talk at the end of a summer REU program:

"I learned that I would prefer doing research where I don't have to be up to my elbows in (diffusion) pump oil."

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 14 Sep 2007 #permalink