Identity.

This is a return of the short post. I write for 5 minutes on a predetermined topic and publish the result. Good, bad, or indifferent. Note: This session went slightly longer than 5 minutes, the timer on my phone didn’t set off an alarm. I am publishing it anyway. This is probably 8 minutes or so.

The thought of how we know who we are came to me today as I was doing some menial tasks around the lab. I’ve made reference to the fact that I can be fairly Sheldon Cooperesque in some mannerisms, and I’ve never really thought that that’s a good thing, but hey, it’s just kind of how I interact with the world.

But where did I get that idea of Sheldon Cooper? It’s not from the character, I Think it likely formed long before that. Growing up, I always had a love of science and wanted to be a scientist of some kind. Astronomy was my first love, but I discovered biology in college (and it was easier in some ways, though now I find myself needing to really learn math/quantitative things as biology goes computational, luckily I’ve got a growth mindset how). I think I got a lot of inspiration from popular protrayals of scientists/critical thinkers/explorers; MacGyver, Captain Picard, Carl Sagan, and I’m sure many more.

The popular portrayal of scientists is often lamented. And for me, as a white dude, I saw a lot of myself on TV which wasn’t a problem for thinking ‘yeah, I could do that’, but may be a problem in that I absorbed a narrow definition of what a scientist does/can look like/be. And I wonder if that harmed me in some way; being too narrow. A version of the ‘man-box’ our culture has that defines hetero-sexual men quite narrowly in how they can act/behave. An example of how the patriarchy is bad for me too (though, yes, no one has to tell me it’s far worse for women/POCs, but if we want to change things, men need reasons to change their views too and I think this is one that could appeal).

And now that I’m not sure I’m even going to be a scientist anymore, I worry about what it means for who I am. Who I can be. Just where I’ll end up or go. I don’t have a model for being anything else but a scientist right now and so it’s still hard to pull myself into changing into something else. I have people in other fields I respect and love the work they do, but am unsure of whether I could actually do it myself. I guess as a scientist, I have a brain and I can empirically test my way out of this. Try, fail, try again. And still attempt to boldly go where no one has gone before.

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Author: Ian Street

Ian is a plant scientist and science writer relating stories of plant science and scientists on his blog, The Quiet Branches as well as other outlets. You can find him on Twitter @IHStreet.

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