BSURF 101: What is a scientist?

Taped to the wall in my lab there is a poster with several pictures, each depicting what different people think scientists do on a day to day basis (shown below).


While cooking meth like Walter White from Breaking Bad is most likely not what scientists here at Duke probably do, I think the pictures accurately reflect some of the stereotypes of researchers from different perspectives. And to be completely honest, coming into this program, I myself was not really sure which picture in the poster really reflected what it means to be a scientist in biomedical research. Our perceptions are often influenced by depictions of scientists by the media, pop culture, or even our high school biology classes. We’ve seen the scientific breakthroughs on the headlines of the evening news. We’ve watched movies or TV shows showing the exploding flasks, three-eyed radioactive mice, and underground meth labs. We’ve done the classic frog dissections in biology lab. Defining scientific research is not so simple at after all. So with that, I hope by the end of this experience I will be able to answer: What is it that scientists really do? What does it mean to be a scientist?

This question is really important, as a huge motivating factor for doing this research experience is to solidify my passion for biomedical research and my dream of pursuing a career in academia. After one short week in the Caron lab, I can already tell you that scientists work very hard, have immense passion for their research, and also make many mistakes. In one short week I have learned and done more than I ever expected I would in such a short time. Conversely, I’ve also never been so confused, in over my head and nervous than I’ve felt in awhile. But I’m starting to think that this is what science demands. It demands knowledge and determination. Patience and practice. This summer, I expect to be challenged mentally with the new research being thrown at me. I expect to have great successes in my experiments and also great failures. I expect to learn something new everyday.

It’s not just the lab techniques and experience that I hope to have acquired by the end of this summer. It’s the experience of beginning to discover what it means to be a biomedical researcher. So when one day when my Ph.D. diploma is hanging over my lab bench, I can then fully answer what it really means to be a scientist.

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