This week’s issue of Nature includes a special Outlook supplement, Lenses on Biology. The 5 lenses are essays adapted from chapters in a new, interactive undergraduate textbook, Principles of Biology, published by Nature Education. The essays focus on what we know about cancer, stem cells, synthetic biology, ocean health and climate change.
To tie in with this special, we asked five biological scientists at different levels of their careers – from high school student to post doc – to tell their personal stories about why they decided to study one of the five featured subjects. Enjoy this closer look at what motivates scientists!
Our final post is by high school student Naseem Syed, she reveals the ways she has been inspired to study biology as a result of her experiences both inside and outside of the classroom.
If you ask any high school graduate what their favorite science class was, their answer may well be biology. Unquestionably it’s mine! Biology is the study of life – it’s one of the most relevant, engaging subjects out there. It gives you the opportunity to examine all kinds of animals in depth, investigate how they live and consider the impact of the environment on their lives; everything on the planet is connected through causes and effects. Why would you want to study biology? Well, why wouldn’t you?! Basic biology is essential because you can ask everyday questions about the world around you and often discover the unexpected. Many people live with misconceptions about the nature of evolution, as did some of my former classmates, until in biology we came to study the topic in greater depth and understand the significance of the survival of the fittest. Biology also allows you to appreciate current global issues, from cancer to climate change.
If you’ve heard of Extreme Biology, a science blog maintained by an ambitious high school teacher, Ms. Baker, and her freshmen students, then you may have heard of my biology class. Ms. Baker shone a new light on the world around us; 9th grade biology for me wasn’t just a blast full of hands-on activities or a package of newly gained insight; my class had opportunities few others could enjoy. Our activities went further than the lab: we dissected dogfish sharks, took trips to investigate our local ecosystem at the Green Belt, went to London for a week touring the Natural History Museum’s Darwin Center alongside geneticist David Ng, had our own real-time court case over the historical story of the HeLa cells, all the while maintaining the Extreme Biology blog. We got to see tangible DNA while studying cell theory, we received visits from the Science Online community, enabling some of us to participate in January’s conference held inNorth Carolina. Our visitors included shark conservation biologist David Shiffman, who gave lessons in our classroom and members of NESCent.
Naseem and her classmates presenting at the Science Online Conference
Taking a tour around a lab at Oxford University
Climate change has always been my favorite topic; it brings a moral dilemma into the classroom, forcing us to think about our individual lifestyles and how we affect our planet. One of my classmates, Samantha, addresses this topic in her Scitable blog Green Science. I have also spoken about similar issues such as, Have you ever wondered what a world without trees would look like? in my Scitable blog, Our Science.
As I advance into my freshman year, I have begun to answer more of my own curiosities: Why do some male animals such as the Blue Footed Booby prance around in a seemingly silly dance? Having studied animal interactions I know their dance is part of a ritualistic mating courtship. Why don’t we look 100% like our parents? The field of genetics helps us understand that DNA is like a shuffled card deck with some probabilities dictated by the genes of our parents. Knowing more about biology helps with everyday life; having studied plant life I now know that the closet isn’t a good place to leave my potted plants and by learning more about climate change, I can understand news stories about global warming and what the consequences mean for our planet.
You may not like the sciences, but everyone has a small curiosity hidden inside and it’s humbling to understand even a small part of the amazing things going on in the universe. As a high school student, I’ve found that the more I advance in my biology studies, the more I appreciate everything around me.
Naseem talking to Carl Zimmer at the Science Online Conference