An increasingly urgent and new job of practicing scientists (and not just our representatives who are journalists or the PR department of a university or professional society) is to explain our work to people in the general public who’s money we use to further human knowledge.
I can speak to the fact that it’s hard when I get asked by family/friends “how are the plants?”…that’s such a broad question and I struggle to explain how my research is going without getting the blank stare back. I understand this to some extent, they’re not molecular biologists, don’t tend to think of biological organisms as machines that are capable or adaptation and interact in a very dynamic way with their environment like us researchers do. I can also say it’s the wrong question to ask- “What have you been doing?” strikes me as a better question to ask a scientist. Asked that way, I feel I can better explain some of the experiments I’m doing in terms that might be more understandable- though it does get complicated when explaining some of the tools I use in my work too.
But I guess when I get asked “how are the plants?” I’ll do my best to explain what I’ve been up to in the lab (and perhaps tell some other stories from the literature that I find fascinating). It’s something we as scientists are going to have to get better at- our work is important- maybe not immediately, but in the long run, innovation and invention drive the economy and provide us with all the great products we enjoy in modern life.