Do you remember what it was that first inspired in you your life’s passion for science? Was it collecting bugs, frogs or other creatures as a child? Or maybe that first chemistry set—the one that had your mother hovering behind you with a fire extinguisher. Perhaps it was a parent or teacher that first sparked something in you that never dimmed. Whatever, or whoever, it was that first kindled your interest in science, no doubt there have been times when you wished that someone would offer you some advice on how to navigate through the modern, rapidly changing world of science.
On this past Saturday, I took a trip to my local library on a quest to get just exactly that. To be specific, I was going to check out a copy of Edward O. Wilson’s Letters to a Young Scientist (1). Although I haven’t had time to read more that the first chapter, the advice that he offers at the end of that chapter struck me as good advice to any young (or not so young) person:
It is quite simple: put passion ahead of training. Feel out in any way you can what you most want to do in science, or technology, or some other science-related profession. Obey that passion as long as it lasts.
Wilson is speaking specifically to young scientists, but it seems to me that this main point is more universal than that: It applies to the not-so-young scientist and the nonscientist as well.
I am really looking forward to reading the rest of the book, but for today I am challenging myself as well as all of you to “obey the passion”. Even if you can only do it for one day, put aside the demands of career or school, find that passion that started you on your journey in science and follow it!
- Wilson, E.O. (2013) Letters to a Young Scientist. Liveright Publishing, New York.
I switched my undergrad major to Biochemistry when I was taking Organic Chem and Physiology in the same semester. We studied beta carotene as a model molecule on O. Chem at the same time we were learning about how beta carotene is involved in vision in Physiology. I could immediately picture in my head the chemical reaction on the molecule in the physiological context. I went straight to my adviser’s office and made the change that day. It was soooo cool to make that connection! I’ll never forget that feeling.
I changed my major from pre-vet to Genetics after an animal science lecture where the professor talked about the genetic similarity of cheetahs as a result of multiple population bottle necks (or so the belief was at the time). I can still remember the professor’s name, and the lecture hall the class was in! It is nice to look back at those “Cool!” moments and remember what brought us to science!