When I grow up, I want to be _______

Okay, I got a fun idea for a little mini-series that will let me kill two birds with one stone, given that I want to write as much as I can in ways that will be helpful to my future careers, as well as round out my online résumé. On that note, I am going to write a series (starting) with 4 posts about careers which I feel qualified for, as well as why I feel I could do them and what specific job titles fall under that categorical umbrella. The first one of these will be posted momentarily, and all of the essays will be linked to this post eventually, once they’re done. Hopefully by the end of this experiment I will be able to narrow down my focus to only one or two career options.

Up first: Research Scientist!

Ps. For those of you who frequent the blog, you will notice a pretty stark change in scenery. I did this to make it a little more consistent, at least logistically, with my website itself. This will hopefully facilitate navigation, as well as making the blog load faster, which I am sure you will notice.

When I grow up, Part 1: Research Scientist

Why I would like to be a research scientist:

The jobs I feel this title encompasses includes (but is not at all limited to) doctor, astronaut, researcher, science officer, engineer.

Since I was a very young child, I have always been fascinated with Science. It is a field of extremely useful and relevant insight into the human condition, and can help us simultaneously understand the smallest bacterium and the largest galaxy. The fact that all of the same rules apply anywhere in the universe is a very humbling idea, but also a very powerful one. Science can be used to peer into the deepest, darkest reaches of the universe, or inside ourselves down to the atomic scale, yet the same basic set of facts hold true.

For most of my life, in fact in my whole living memory, I have been extremely curious about pretty much every scientific domain. Whether that is chemistry (which ended up being my primary field of study at the post-secondary level), physics, biology, medicine, astronomy, or geology, I have always found myself captivated by the joy of collecting knowledge and information.

Growing up, and in most cases to this day, what I learn lines up with what I already know, validating the current knowledge base. But this is not where the joy of science comes in. I think that is a common misconception of “civilians” when discussing science as a method. When something comes along that flies in the face of what we have agreed is the best explanation for a given phenomenon, we have to alter the theory so that it fits all evidence. This is not a failure of the scientific method; it is actually its most wonderful feature. If everything that happened in the universe fit perfectly into our existing knowledge base, the world would be an incredibly boring place. There could be little or no scientific or technological innovation if we learned everything there was to know about the world, or if new experiments ceased to give us new information about our existence. If science had run up against that wall at any point in history, society as a whole would be much worse off.

The absolute most wonderful part of science is its ability to see past political lines, beyond personal opinion or celebrated intelligence. For example, in the Middle Ages, or perhaps a little earlier, it was commonly thought that the world was flat and that that the earth was the center of the whole universe. This in itself is a very egotistical idea, but nevertheless. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that view at the time, and scientists around (umm aflat?) the world, given their evidence, had no choice but to think that. However, the problem arose when scientists like the famous Galileo Galilei started to encounter evidence to show that the Earth had to be round, and that it was very likely that the Sun was actually in the center of our little universe (the solar system). This evidence was merely the scientific method at work, and required modification of the existing theories about our world, but certain parties considered it heresy and (infamously) banished him to house arrest.

The point of this story is that in order to be a scientist, at least in the strictest definition, you really have to be able to put the truth above all preconceptions and personal notions. I think of myself as being ideal for this type of work because I care deeply about understanding the universe the way it is, not fitting it into some template of prior expectations. In this way I am more than capable of being objective in the face of unexpected results in any part of my life. I am always very excited to let the scientific method determine the outcome of experiment.

In the course of learning about chemistry at the post-secondary level, I have come to realize that none of the sciences are really so different once you understand one. So while I have training in chemistry, and specifically in solid-state NMR and computational methods thereof, my training has also prepared me to learn and understand any of the sciences. Over the course of a four year university degree, we are taught to read up on scientific literature, ask any questions we have, and then enter into a lab environment to perform specific experiments based on the learned concepts. In general, extensive training on these concepts is not given, and experiments in these labs are rarely done more than once in the same way. By this logic, for a competent scientist, an experiment which holds interest for the experimenter can easily be accomplished with minimal training, regardless of the specific scientific discipline.

All of this considered, I believe I have the experience, know-how and specific skills and aptitudes to be an excellent research scientist.

Writing on the Internet

I would like to dedicate this post to Matthew Inman, creator of the Oatmeal.

He wrote a really wonderful and beautiful post today about writing on the internet. You can see it at the link above, but basically it outlines why he loves writing and cartooning and comicing on the internet. It really is a fantastical place once you get to know people and people start to get to know you. Of course, Matt is a major success story, very few people can actually be successful doing what he does.

The great thing that happened to me as I was reading it, though, is that I found that probably the best and best known writer on the internet encounters all of the same problems and nuances of writing as I do. From spending hours thinking about a topic and writing nothing, to waking up at 3 AM and pouring your heart out, you do what you have to when the mood strikes. I would absolutely love to get the chance to write professionally on the Internet, but I’m not quite there yet. I hope that one day soon though, that I would be so lucky as to get the chance to do what I am so passionate about as my primary job.

That is a pretty basic human desire, and we should all get to do it, at least for a little while in our lives. For the time being though, I am going to keep writing about what I love, and I hope you all enjoy reading what I have to say. I definitely have a few ideas cooking, and I intend to see them through.

Do go read the comic I’m talking about at the Oatmeal though, here’s the link:

(The Oatmeal)