Would You Call Me A Scientist?

Jun 10, 2012

We all arrive into this world as budding scientists, naturally curious about everything we encounter. I've yet to meet a 6-year-old who isn't captivated by whales, dinosaurs, or space exploration. They may not call their interests "science" or be able to recite the scientific method by heart, but elementary schools across the United States are teeming with would-be astronauts, paleontologists and ocean explorers.

Once upon a time (a decade ago), I studied the charismatic sea cucumber in graduate school. I modeled the way populations of these animals move and reproduce in the Gulf of Maine, spending much of my time elbow deep in sea cucumber gonads. I also worked with fishermen and the state government officials to implement better management of the emerging sea cucumber fishery. So back in 2002, sure, I would have immediately called myself a scientist.

Then I had the good fortune to serve as a science fellow for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). I was initially brought to his D.C. office in to handle ocean policy. My science background helped me also take on energy and environment issues. I became comfortable and happy in the role of policy staffer because I filled an important niche.

I started blogging, writing science articles and books after taking a job at Duke's Nicholas School. Although I have never taken a journalism course, I had evolved into a budding science writer.

Now I work at the University of Texas at Austin. At the business school I direct UT's Energy Poll — an initiative to explore the relationship between energy and the public.

In other words, I've always worked in science, but also don't fit into any traditional academic category. I don't consider science my profession. Science is the way I live. It involves careful observation, critical thinking, patience and the courage to ask important questions, even when those questions might not be welcome.

So, would you call me a scientist? I'm not sure it matters.

Guest blogger Sheril Kirshenbaum writes frequently on the relationship between science and culture. She is also director of The Energy Poll at The University of Texas at Austin. You can keep up with what she's thinking on Twitter and on the Web.

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