Scientist: A blessing and a curse

Recently, I was hiking on a trail near Los Angeles, enjoying the weekend and my days off from grad school. It was great to hear the crunch of leaves under my feet, feel the sun on my skin, and breathe in the substantially cleaner air of Topanga State Park. As a busy grad student, such moments of relief from stress and anxiety are often fleeting and hard to come by. At the end of the trail, I looked out over the beaches below and the ocean extending out from there, trying to take in the scenery, sounds, and wildlife—those birds chirping as they settle in for the night, the wind creating lines and waves on the ocean’s surface. Then, like the sound of a siren as it approaches from afar, the moment of silence was interrupted when the scientist portion of my brain slowly crept in to fill the void.

What sort of things are those birds trying to communicate? Are they trying to gather their young or warn friends about predators? They’re pretty close to me, how have all the human visitors to the park affected their behavior? Their survival? Their fitness?

Is there any kelp along the shore? Are those waves helping disperse kelp spores to supplement the population? Or are they building and building to break the kelp at the stipe and send the entire individual down to San Diego? How would that affect all the fish that use that kelp for habitat? Poor poor Dory, lost from her family…silly Disney, blue tangs don’t live in temperate waters!

Once my mind starts, it jumps from question to question with such rapid fire speed that I often forget what question started this whole death spiral…which makes me disgruntled. So now I’m disgruntled and surrounded by nature and I can’t just sit there in silence and appreciate it. This, to me, is part of the curse of being a scientist—there is no aspect of life where science can’t interject questions and hypotheses. However, this curse is also a blessing at times.

We go through life analyzing everything through scientific lens and constantly asking questions, but that’s just the best part—we’re always asking questions, thinking about the way that things work, allowing the gears in our curious minds to turn. It is this constant state of thinking and wondering and questioning that makes being a scientist a constant adventure, and emboldens us to keep doing what we’re doing. While having a critical mind may initially seem like a curse for simply observing the world, it is also the blessing that has led to so many great scientific discoveries by people who let their mind wander and acted on a wacky suggestion from the scientific voice in their heads.


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