New York Blog

Story Collider: I Am Science

Who is a scientist? How does one become a scientist? Is there some sort of sacred path from college to graduate school to post-doc to professor that magically makes you a scientist? Along those lines, if you didn’t happen to follow that path, does that mean you can’t be a scientist?

Luckily, efforts like IAmScience by Kevin Zelnio and This is What a Scientist Looks Like are challenging the traditional perception of scientists. On Tuesday night, Story Collider celebrated its 2nd anniversary with its own IAmScience event. (Read more about IAmScience by Ben Lillie, co-founder of the Story Collider, here)

Four scientists from all walks of science shared their personal science stories (traditional and non) to challenge several common myths about how to become a scientist.

Ben Lilllie and Erin Barker of Story Collider (I'm not that great of a photographer)

Myth 1: The traditional path to becoming a scientist is easy and straightforward

Joy Hirsch telling us about the ups and downs of tenure

Joy Hirsch, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, recounted how, as a well-known researcher in her field and a fully tenured professor at Memorial-Sloan Kettering, she was denied tenure after having accepted a new position at Columbia. After a little bit of digging, she found out that the decision was made largely based on university politics that she wasn’t involved in. Eventually, the political landscape of the university changed, and Hirsch did join the Columbia staff as a tenured professor, where she is well known for her work in brain imaging.

Myth 2: You have to study science to be a scientist

Next, Joe LeDoux, a neuroscientist at NYU (and lead singer for the heavy mental band the Amygdaloids), told his story of becoming a professor. LeDoux never studied science until pursuing his PhD. He majored in marketing in college. It wasn’t until LeDoux was pursuing a master’s degree in marketing that he discovered a love for science. Like any good marketer, LeDoux was interested in what motivates consumers. He took a psychology class, started working in the lab and got hooked. After being rejected from eleven out of the twelve science graduate programs he applied for, LeDoux finally got into SUNY Stony Brook and is now well known for his work on emotion and memory.

Joe LeDoux and the Amygdaloids rocking out

Myth 3: You have to be a scientist to do science

Surely you have to be a scientist in order to do science. Not so, says Darlene Cavalier, founder of Science Cheerleader and SciStarter. Like LeDoux, Cavalier didn’t study science in college; she majored in communications. After starting as a temp at Discover magazine, Cavalier worked up the ranks and found that she really enjoyed science. However, without any type of science background, how could she and the millions of other people interested in science partake in this endeavor? That’s when Cavalier discovered citizen science projects and started SciStarter as a repository for interested citizen scientists to find projects that interest them wherever they may be, at home, on the beach, or even while driving in their car.

Myth 4: You have to do science to have a science career

David Dobbs, a science writer who has written for publications like the New York Times, National Geographic and Wired, finished up the evening. Dobbs recounted an incredibly personal and touching story about how science, “got into his head”. Finding himself unable to recall how to travel to places that he’d been to hundreds of times, Dobbs went to Joy Hirsch to find out if something was wrong with his brain. Hirsch did discover a lesion in Dobbs’ hippocampus, the area of the brain involved in spatial navigation. Dobbs’ story is not mine to tell, but suffice it to say that his blog over at Wired deals extensively with neuroscience, psychology and depression.

Do you have an IAmScience story you’d like to share? Check out the IAmScience hashtag on twitter and add your own personal story about how you got involved in science.

Story Collider’s next event is on June 20th at Union Hall in Brooklyn. The theme: I’m Not Science.


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