Updated: Apr 2, 2020

I don't look like Howard, Leonard and Sheldon, can I still be a scientist?

I remember walking into my first lecture, Dr. Parry gave us all an activity to do. I thought he was going to give us a hugely challenging task that I wouldn't have the answer to. Instead, he simply asked us to draw a picture of a scientist. So that is your task today, right now, nothing too challenging.

I put to you that scientists can be normal. I also put to you, that you too can call yourself a scientist.

I love asking that question ‘what is a scientist’ or ‘what does a scientist look like’. The same sort of image comes up, Howard, Leonard, and Sheldon from the Big Bang Theory, or even an Einstein looking kind of guy. Synonyms such as white, old, man, white-bearded, crazy hair, lab coat, rich, glasses, boring, lonely, weird, to name but a few, are what a lot of people think of, or even imagine.

Whilst I have met people who look like this in real life, thankfully, I don't meet all of those standards. I would use different words to describe myself. Here goes nothing, I am a black African woman who loves art, science, and Jesus. I live a well-rounded life with great friends and family. The craziest my hair has ever been is when I am trying to tame my natural hair after wash day. I do wear glasses, but I can live without them.

I put to you that scientists can be normal. I also put to you, that you too can call yourself a scientist. I know, I know, you don't meet the standards either; let me let you in on a little secret. You’ve been a scientist since the day you were born. You, yes you. Now before you update your CV with this new job title, let me explain a little further.

Let's take a trip down memory lane, to your first steps. I have had the amazing privilege of watching siblings and cousins taking their first steps. It's a time filled with excitement for those watching, but for the child in question, some very complex calculations are happening. One of the golden rules of science is to repeat an experiment for reliability and validity. Quick question for you, when was the last time you saw a baby just decide to get up and walk one day? The reason why you can’t think of the time is because it’s never happened. Each time the child stands up, it's fine-tuning the force needed to raise itself off the floor. A little too much force and it's face planting into the floor, not enough force and you’re stationary. Once they're up and holding onto the sofa they test out those legs. We get to observe the baby bounce, on occasion, they get a bit too big for their baby boots, start clapping in excitement; and this results in sitting back on their bum again. Now they realise that balance is a huge factor in standing and walking.

These calculations continue with every trial, and with every attempt, things are refined. Before you know it they're walking. This analogy demonstrates how the principles of science are ingrained into us as humans. Now you can update your CV.

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