Misconceptions

Sometime ago, I asked Aya if she knew exactly what kind of work we do. Turned out that she didn’t. So I told her: “We’re scientists. You know, I do experiments everyday, just like the experiments we do at home. Tatay does stuffs on the computer. We’re both hakase.” Hakase (??) refers to someone who holds a doctorate. Aya knows this word because she watches Powerpuff Girls on TV, so I thought I’d use the word to give her an idea. In the cartoon series, the girls refer to Prof. Utonium as “hakase.”

Aya laughed out loud and said: “Eh? Hakase si Tatay? Ikaw rin? Pano ka naging hakase eh babae ka?” (What? Dad is a PhD? And you too? How could you be one when you’re a woman?)

powerpuff-girls8Thanks a lot to the people who created Powerpuff Girls. You’ve inadvertently given my daughter the erroneous idea that for someone to be called Dr. or hakase, that someone has to be a man. But for now, I’ll reserve my rants about gender issues in another blog entry. 

I couldn’t forget that incident, because it illustrated perfectly how many of our misconceptions could start early on in our lives, no thanks to the crap that we are inevitably fed by the media, friends and families, the very environment we grow up in. The images we see on TV or movies are very powerful in influencing our perception of so many things. (Image taken from www.tv.com)

When someone mentions the word, “scientist,” what kind of images do you usually conjure in your mind? Let me guess. White, male, wearing a white lab coat. Wears glasses. Disheveled appearance. Either bald or has unusually long, unkempt hair. Has that kind of out-of-this-world wild look in his eyes. Unless we meet real people who go against our preconceived ideas, we’re probably not likely to change (those ideas).

Nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a wide spectrum of people who call themselves scientists, and no one fits into a strict stereotype like the ones portrayed by the media. The scientists I work with are very down-to-earth people who are very much, well, normal. And besides, I married one of them. Admittedly, you could argue that because I’ve been working and living with them for so long, I couldn’t distinguish freaks from normal ones anymore. :)

Perhaps this latest comment from a reader (Noel) aptly describes it:

anyway, i think one of the reasons why there are few pinoy scientists is that we pinoys dont know what scientists do. i, for one, always associate scientists with dexter and his lab. you know, white lab gown, spending long time working alone in their secret laboratory, and so on.

I also find it rather amusing that Pinoys would treat PhD holders with some kind of deference – by calling them “Doc (insert name here).” Personally I feel uncomfortable when someone refers to me as “Doc Kathy.” I don’t like being singled out. It’s bad enough that I am not exactly gifted with extraordinary social skills. I could be rather awkward among other people. Adding a title to my name in an otherwise perfectly normal conversation makes me feel like I’m being put on a pedestal that I don’t really deserve. No offense to those who want to relish their well-deserved (of course it is, because you worked hard to obtain it) titles and would make an effort that everyone else on planet earth would acknowledge it. I just don’t see the need to use it except on a business card.

What it boils down to is this: being a scientist is just another profession. A calling, if you wish.

Some people also have the illusion that if you’re a scientist, then you must be earning a lot of money. The truth is, unless you work for a big-time industrial company, you’re likely to start with a relatively small salary. To move to a higher salary rung, you have to patiently climb the academic ladder like everyone else. And the way to the top isn’t a bed of roses either. Don’t take my word for it: read about scientists and their worth.

And I guess, this is part of the reason why I’ve decided to keep and maintain this blog. Because being a scientist is but a role in my life. There are other aspects of my life that deserve being told: as a mom, daughter, wife, Filipino. Each role is unique, and overlapping roles make my life a tad more challenging.

And perhaps, just perhaps, this would help dispel the idea that scientists only live in a world that nobody else understands.

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12 Responses to Misconceptions

  1. SexyMom says:

    what will you do after school? that’s what i also asked my son, BA, who is taking up applied physics in UP. he said he will be a scientist. i asked what a scientist would do–teach? now you give me an idea of what BA will become.

  2. herb says:

    there’s no money in the arts either… *sigh*

  3. kathy says:

    Atta boy! I would strongly encourage him to pursue graduate studies. If he’s in his junior year (some start even as early as sophomore year), he should be joining a lab group soon for his thesis work. Then things would get really interesting…he’d have a good idea of how it feels to conduct one’s own research. Good luck to your son!

  4. kathy says:

    Maybe so. But I bet the guys at Pixar/Disney’s would disagree, lol.

  5. dimaks says:

    sana maging ok rin ang pangarap kong maging hakase hehe.

  6. bw says:

    It is a misconception I agree, but one that carries extreme respect though :)

    It is quite normal to equate high educational achievement with financial remuneration and that’s the primary motivation of parents wanting their kids to get post graduate degrees these days.

    Incidentally, Einstein in his essay “Why Socialism” criticizes this thinking as fallout of the evils capitalism- “an exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career”. Einstein thinks that the primary goal of education must focus on social goals. I happen to think of scientists as people who are passionate about what they do and that is discover new things for the human race and self-enrichment to be secondary :)

  7. Toe says:

    Very eye-opening post. I’ve always imagined scientists to be like Dr. Frankenstein… always creating smoky colored potions in deep dungeons. :) But now, I know. :)

  8. annamanila says:

    There is so much myth to being a scientist. First of all, ak the the ordinary young student, and he doesn’t exactly think of physics, math, chemistry, and the like with stars in his eyes. Next, we think of scientists spending years to find out knowledge obscure and esoteric and hard tp apply to ordinary life to the ordinary man.

    All those plus movies like the Nutty Professor, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. hyde and many more doesn’t help any to dissociate the image of a scientist from the nerds, eccentrics and even, pardon me, the dialogical. hahaha

    But we need scientists, and scientists that would work for this country that needs them more than the already developed ones.

    So .. when do you come back for good, Dr Kathy?

  9. kathy says:

    BW, thanks for the insightful comments! I do think that the primary role of education is *to educate*, and not to enable one to land a high-paying job. And I do agree about the “exaggerated competitive attitude” being inculcated into our students, most particularly in our country. Students are ranked all the time, and honors are regularly bestowed on those who prove their worth. But in a way it is a double-edged sword. Despite our misgivings, competition can be a good motivation for anyone to strive harder. :)

  10. kathy says:

    Gambatte yo, Dimaks. Don’t count the years, count the experience. The PhD experience would serve you well, believe me. 😉

  11. kathy says:

    Hi Toe! Thank goodness you’re here again. Thanks for dropping by. :)

    Truly, there’s more to scientists than meets the eye (like Transformers, hahah). But seriously, it’s really creepy how they portray scientists in movies.

  12. kathy says:

    And therein lies the irony, I think. Because so much of what we now enjoy in our “modern” age has been brought about by nothing less than scientific advancements. For instance, it’s hard to believe that something like high-definition TV came about because of the effort of people who toiled in the laboratories studying “obscure and esoteric” knowledge.

    It’s primary a problem of communicating science to the public, or perhaps the sheer lack of it. But there are ways. Here in Tsukuba, there are regular public events (like “open house”) where the community is invited to visit the research institutes and learn all about the latest research results. It’s also very common to find TV programs where professors/scientists are invited to talk about a particular topic of general interest to the audience. Efforts like these go a long way to helping disseminate the knowledge to the general public.

    Regarding the need for scientists, I couldn’t agree more!

    But as for your final question, I think the reply deserves an entire post all by itself. :)

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