The Rational, Emotional Scientist

written by Dendrite –

A big part of our job as scientists is to be objective- put all human, subjective feelings aside and try to look at the problem or interpret data through an unbiased lens.  But, contrary to popular belief, scientists are in fact people with opinions, emotions, and natural biases and I believe recognition of this is important.  And while I’ve discussed recognizing my own biases with others, I think this conversation needs to go beyond recognition and into acceptance that scientists are human and to treat them (each other) otherwise is just silly.  Scientists in general need a better balance between rational and emotional thinking, or at least a way of explaining and sharing emotions to other scientists without compromising their opinions of objective work.

Being objective doesn’t mean you can’t care or nurse a pet hypothesis for longer than you probably should.  Being a scientist does not mean you have to be a robot.

My favorite scientists (and people!) are those that acknowledge their emotional and human side.  Those that talk about their families, hopes, and irrational worries are great to be around, and still do kickass science.  I’ve encountered some old-school thinkers that would prefer science to stay science and emotions to stay at home.  To that I say, NO ONE LIKES YOU.  A lab is a workplace but it can also be a supportive community.

Sharing your life outside of the lab with those you work with creates better relationships. I believe it also enhances the work being done. It opens communication lines. People care about each others’ success and celebrate it!  The lab becomes more fun and who doesn’t want that? While academia does not have all the perks of working at Google, building good working/personal relationships can be a perk!  We all know the importance of being happy when it comes to productivity.

I’ve come to realize exactly how lucky I am to have friends and colleagues like the other Brainy Birds. Their interest in both my science and my life has provided an unparalleled level of support and enhanced my graduate school experience overall. Those impersonal PIs who try to run a lab like an assembly line need to realize and appreciate the value of the personalities of their lab members.  To the scientists that have personalities and show them, THANK YOU for making work fun!  I can only hope to create such a supportive, personal, fun environment when I have a lab of my own.

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4 Responses to The Rational, Emotional Scientist

  1. Dennis says:

    I had bad experience with getting to connected with my colleagues. I have no interest in sharing more than necessary, anymore. If it works for you, that’s fine, but I do ‘prefer science to stay science and emotions to stay at home’. Not to say, I don’t show emotions in the lab. I just don’t share a lot about my personal life. Because, you know, personal life only keeps you from being successful.

    • Dennis says:

      uhm, that’s is not what I think, it is what I was constantly told when I talked about it. ‘after months of working continuously, this weekend I finally did nothing!’ – ‘don’t you think it is getting kind of close with writing your thesis?’ – that was in all seriousness and only one of the many times where sharing personal things immediately was used against me. I don’t need colleagues ‘taking interest’ in my personal life. Thanks.

  2. scitrigrrl says:

    Thanks for this! I agree completely. I have thrived in supportive environments with colleagues who are friends.
    @Dennis – I’m sorry this has been your experience. The problem is that there is a chicken-and-egg issue. How do you create a supportive, sharing caring environment without sharing, and how does one share in a strictly science-only space?

  3. Abby Kavner says:

    Even within the space of work-appropriate, we all have different boundaries in terms of what to share, when, etc., and different fields have different cultures. Most of the (physical science) labs I’ve worked in have tight boundaries (a la Dennis’s comment above). For me, my internal world and personal world is very much intertwined with my science world, and I believe in sharing it when it feels appropriate to me. I definitely recognize that others might have looser or tighter boundaries and very much try to respect that.

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