So you’re a neuroscientist? Oh….
Ah! A phrase I hear quite often. On more than one occasion it’s been misheard as ‘Euroscientist’ (“Into politics are you?”) and even ‘Urinescientist’ (“Eurgh! Why??”).
However, the title of this post accurately describes the beginning – and end – of the majority of conversations I have had with strangers, acquaintances and occasionally, family members. It’s unusual, it’s uncommon and can feel like a pretty unapproachable subject … therefore it’s intimidating. I understand that. People don’t seem to know how to act in response to it; there’s no frame of reference, nothing to say.
And I believe that the fault lies entirely with Science.
It’s not exactly accessible – it’s a career only open to those with undergraduate degrees who then complete a PhD, with perhaps a Master’s degree in-between. And even then, only those with significant amounts of luck and/or talent will go on to have successful careers.
It’s also not obvious what these academic types do all day, holed up in their universities, providing the occasional sound bite for documentaries, an interesting news story or their expert analysis on that day’s episode of Big Brother.
And on top of the mystery of what we do all day, the media reports both a new cure and cause for Alzheimer’s disease or Cancer seemingly every week! Of course that’s going to raise suspicion, and that suspicion breeds mistrust of where that information came from, and that information came from scientists!
Therefore, scientists cannot be trusted!
Well, that’s not exactly true – the real information is often exaggerated and sensationalised to make it more interesting. No one wants to hear ‘cautious optimism’ – they want results! Cures!
So, given all of these misunderstandings, as well as cuts to essential funding and growing controversies over research methods (for example, animal testing and stem cells, to name just two of the big guns), only recently has it been acknowledged that perhaps, perhaps, Science should reach out and interact with the public to explain what we do and why it’s worth it. There is currently a huge drive for ‘Public Engagement’ in universities in the UK – a push to explain that what we do is worthwhile, how it benefits society, to encourage children to get interested and active in science, and importantly, to prove that we’re not all weird reclusive nerds!
I have started this blog because I want to explain to my friends and family what the hell it is that I do all day. I also want to share the bigger picture, dispel some of the myths and mystery about scientific research, as well as discuss its weaknesses and flaws. Even if you hated GCSE biology and chemistry, I reckon you’ll find some of it pretty awesome.
I’d love to hear your opinions on how you perceive science and scientific researchers – comment below! Also if you have any questions about any biology/chemistry/neuroscience-related stories that have been in the news or that you’ve wondered about – ask me in the comments box, and I’ll do my best to answer!