Debbie Knight

The question “Why?” is why I became a scientist

In observation on September 19, 2011 at 11:49 am


I ran across this video about scientists — or at least six scientists — that successfully showed that they are … well, human.

In this video, the scientists share their thoughts and stories about how they got interested in science, what keeps them doing research, and what they think makes a good scientist. The narrator, Stephen Curry, is also a scientist at Imperial College in London, England.

One of the questions these scientists were asked was what or who influenced them to become scientists.

I had to think for a moment how I would have answered this question.

Was it a high school teacher?

I think my teachers certainly helped nurture and shape my desire to be a scientist, but were they THE reason I became one? I’d have to say no.

So just WHO did influence me to become a scientist?

After some thought I realized it was my mom!

She had a keen interest in medicine even though she never finished nursing school because I came along and it was frowned upon for a woman to be both student mother back then. She worked in a doctor’s office as a physician’s assistant and would talk candidly about anything medical — even at the dinner table.

She patiently fed my curiosity about the world.

I’m not sure but I think maybe my first word was “Why?”  In truth, it was probably something less original like “dah-dah” but it should have been “Why?” Lord knows I asked it often enough!

I think my mom probably should have been nominated for sainthood (or something) based on how many times I asked her “Why?” She was a good sport. I was always curious and always asking questions. And she would answer those questions to the best of her ability. Any answer she gave me however was invariably followed by another “Why?” This would continue until I exhausted her ability to answer or her patience, whichever came first. And then I would get the “Why don’t you go look it up?” (What’s the fun in that when I had a walking, talking encyclopedia at my beck and call?)

I think this questioning, the curiosity is what led me to become a scientist.

I will admit I did stop asking “Why?” for a brief period in freshman biology classes. I thought that professors would have all the answers. And they seemingly did — until one professor contradicted what another teacher had taught in a previous class. Huh? It took a little while for me to realize that professors have their own perspectives from which they draw upon to teach. So I realized they may not have all the answers, hence the brief boycott on “Why?”

Eventually I learned to ask myself “Why?” and find the answers for myself — through experiments in the lab.

And that’s the fun part of being a scientist — there’s always a “Why?” or a “I wonder what would happen if ..” question to ask.

And sometimes, if you’re lucky, you get an answer!

(Oh, and if you watched the video to the very end, my favorite cheese is extra sharp white cheddar .. at least for the moment).


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