Monday, April 23, 2007

What is a "scientist"?

The note below popped up today on a listserve I subscribe to. The author, Emily Monosson is writing a book on balancing family and science tentatively titled Motherhood: The Elephant in the Laboratory.

Hi all. A couple of weeks back, while talking about the women/science/motherhood book someone asked how would I define a scientist. It seemed like a good question - and I didn't have a really good answer. Some women with Ph.D.s who now teach high school science, write text books etc. wonder if they are still "scientists," I would say yes, others may not.

For the book I am working on, I'd like to discuss how the scientific community defines "a scientist," who would AAAS, NSF etc. consider a scientist? How would you define a scientist?

Additionally, what does it take to be considered a "successful" scientist? Or how would one define "success" in science?

What is a scientist? What a great question. It's one of those deceptively difficult things that you assume you know the answer to, until you actually try to put it into words. Kind of like, what is a planet?

For my part, I'm in the "once a scientist, always a scientist" camp. Being a scientist isn't about how much time you spend in the lab or how long your list of publications is. It's about how you think, how you approach a problem, the way that you see the world.

Being a "successful scientist" though, is another thing altogether. I would say that requires such things as well cited publications in peer reviewed journals, successful grant proposals, the respect of colleagues, successful graduate students, etc. Of course, you can be a scientist and be successful in other fields (like being an astronaut, or a senator, or both if you're really ambitious), but that's different from being a "successful scientist".

What do you think? Leave a note in the comments and I'll forward them to Emily.

1 comment:

Emily Monosson said...

Hi InterplanetSarah, just found your post through Google. Wish I'd seen it when I was writing about success for the book!

But, just to let you know, the book is now in press (due out this spring).

I've just set up a blog/website/interactive site where I hope to generate discussion. I plan to experiment, allowing multiple users to create pages and post blogs.

I had just added the first blog entry on "what is success in science," when I came across your blog entry from way back when.

If you have a chance please check it out (it's new and evolving so comments are on format etc. are welcome as well.)