6 February 2012

This is what a geologist looks like

Posted by Jessica Ball

Recently there’s been activity on Twitter (#Iamscience) and Tumblr (the “This is what a scientist looks like” blog) with a simple message: Scientists are people too! (And boy, do we have some fun hobbies.)

I think these efforts are really important right now. In my opinion, one of the big problems with the anti-science attitude in this country is that people seem to think that scientists are aloof and unapproachable by anyone who isn’t a scientist. We’ve somehow acquired the image of being brainy but secretive folks who closet themselves in their labs with mysterious research, out of touch with the “real” world and unable to relate to non-scientists. Well, nothing could be further from the truth! Scientists, including geologists, are people who take their jobs just as seriously as anyone else, but we also have lives outside of science – and we do some pretty interesting things. My work as a volcanologist certainly defines a key part of who I am, but it’s not the only part of my life that matters. So while you may see me looking like this at meetings:

At the 2010 AGU Fall Meeting

Or like this when I’m doing field work:

Gas sampling during the CSAV Field Methods in Volcanology course, summer 2007

…I also have hobbies and interests just like any other person. For example,

I bake and cook.

My favorite household appliance. Even more my favorite since I got the pasta roller attachment...

I play violin and viola da gamba in orchestras – the violin for 18 years, and the gamba for 6 years. I just played violin in a concert yesterday!

A viola da gamba is a Renaissance instrument that's kind of like a cross between a cello and a guitar. Yes, it looks weird, but it sounds awesome.

I dabble in historical reenacting.

Okay, so the parasol isn't Italian and I'm not wearing my dress's sleeves. But hey, who's going to nitpick when it's hot out? (If you recognize the setting, you'll know why I'm being so lax with the historical accuracy.)

I take photos of things other than rocks (occasionally).

Railway bridge at Letchworth State Park, 2010

Sea turtle in Hawai'i, 2007

The French Castle, Fort Niagara, 2011

(Actually, there are geological features in two of these photos, but I wasn’t paying attention to those. I swear.)

I play with my cat (somewhat less than she’d like, but that’s what working on a PhD will do to your free time).

Sabrina doesn't follow the rules very well when it comes to board games.

I like to lie on the beach and do nothing.

Okay, so it is a black sand beach and I did happen to visit it on a field trip to Hawai'i. And I'm wearing my field gear. I do like lazing around beaches no matter where they are, though.

I dress up for Halloween.

Guns are a good way to win an argument, but not a recommended part of the scientific method.

I sleep in on weekends and sing along to musicals. I volunteer at archaeological digs. I sew and knit. I love watching old cheesy pirate movies, sappy romantic flicks and fantasy adventures. I rock-climb (slowly), play basketball (also slowly, but I can still hit three-point shots), and ice-skate. I go out with my friends for wings and pizza and beer.

I am not a one-dimensional person. I love volcanoes and volcanology, but I also have a vibrant and interesting life outside of being a scientist. No matter what you see on TV or in the news about how scientists are out of touch with “normal” people, it couldn’t be more wrong! We have hobbies and families and good and bad times just like everyone else. Our jobs may work a little differently, but they are still jobs. I don’t assume that my friends who are accountants, or military pilots, or writers, or graphic designers, or salespeople, are defined only by their jobs – because I know that they’re not!

I think this also relates back to some excellent points that Ryan Anderson at The Martian Chronicles recently made about grad school: Maintaining a work-life balance is pretty important for your sanity, especially if you suffer from that common affliction of grad students everywhere, guilt over not working hard enough. Ryan reminds us to “Do fun stuff” and “Have a life” to help get past rough patches, and I think that’s an important thing to remember no matter what stage of your career you’re at. If defining yourself only by your job is what works and makes you happy, that’s great; but to me it’s apparent that branching out beyond the science makes a lot of people happy as well (and they’re all on that Tumblr blog, including me).

So, if you’re thinking about becoming a scientist, don’t let a stereotype scare you away! We have just as much fun outside of our jobs as anyone else – and, if we’re lucky, we get to have fun doing our jobs too.