I’m going to be catching up on responding to articles I’ve had a chance to read in the last year, but haven’t had a chance to properly digest. This article by one of my instructors at the Santa Fe Science Writing Workshop, Cory Dean, is spot on:
“In a telephone interview, Dr. Ehlers, a Michigan Republican who retired this year, said he thinks a kind of “reverse snobbery” keeps researchers out of public life. “You have these professors struggling to write their $30,000 grant applications at the same time there are people they would never accept in their research groups making $100-million decisions in the National Science Foundation or the Department of Energy,” he said. He said it was “shortsighted” of the science and engineering community not to encourage “some of their best and brightest” into public life.”
All too true. And scientists have other gifts, aside from technical expertise, sorely lacking in the political sphere: patience. Scientists have the ability to see nuance in arguments – an argument is not necessarily wrong because it comes from the other side of the aisle. Further arguments are multi-faceted, and one part of an argument could be wrong, part could be right, and part live in the “we don’t have evidence” land. Speaking of evidence, scientists love finding the facts, and are patient in getting to the bottom of them. The oft-true stereotype of a political campaign: truthiness.
“Alan I. Leshner, a psychologist who heads the American Association for the Advancement of Science, agreed. He recalled learning as a young scientist in the 1960s that people who engaged in issues outside the lab “were wasting time and a sellout.” Young researchers today want their work to be “relevant, useful and used,” he said, but “they still get that message from their mentors.”
In other words, as long as your doing your fair share in the lab, do what you want! Just realize your advisor might grumble a bit. But it doesn’t mean they will ruin your career or even give you a lukewarm recommendation. If you keep up with your passions outside of research, some might even begin to admire it.
And on a similar note:
“Some researchers are concerned that if they leave the lab, even briefly, they will never be able to pick up the thread of their technical careers. But Dr. Foster said he had had no shortage of interesting job opportunities in science after his two years in Congress. And, he added, such risks were built into public service.”