Is it science envy, or science gluttony?

David Ng at the World's Fair has some questions:

1. What's your current scientific specialty?

2. Were you originally pursuing a different academic course? If so, what was it?

3. Do you happen to wish you were involved in another scientific field? If so, what one?

I'll play:

1. Currently I'm not a scientist but rather a philosopher of science and an ethics teacher for future scientists. However, when I last was a practicing scientist, I was a physical chemist whose broad focus was the dynamics and thermodynamics of far-from-equilibrium systems.

Here's a narrower description of my work: I tried to figure out ways to get more empirical data from an oscillating chemical reaction (the chlorite-iodide reaction, for those who follow these things) to test proposed reaction mechanisms and gain insight about how to adjust the proposed reaction mechanisms to make them more realistic.

2. I'm not sure how far back I'm supposed to go to get to the "origin" of my academic course. While I started and ended college as a chemistry major, for approximately the first two years of college I thought I would go to medical school and become a physician. (Some of my undergraduate research experiences, in a physiology lab and a cancer pharmacology lab, reflected that early trajectory.)

Discovering a subculture of pre-meds who were all about memorizing rather than understanding, and getting stuck with a professor for my first semester of organic chemistry who was happy to give the pre-meds what they wanted (which is to say, he never explained why the electrons in the reactions shifted this way rather than that way), I came very close to falling in with the physicists. I've always liked math, and I have great love for subjects where you can derive most of the particular formulae you need from one or two important ones.

Physics labs, however, seemed less likely to actually work than chemistry labs.

The instruction in my biology lectures didn't really inspire me, but I quite liked the labs in the cell biology lab I took. I was similarly enthusiastic about my biochemistry labs (especially because in the second semester we had to develop our own experimental plan of attack and protocols), but I will confess that my thin blood made me kind of unhappy in the cold room.

When I headed off to grad school, I had a mild intention of trying to take up with a group that did organometallic syntheses (since I always thought those were pretty cool), or maybe a group that took a physical approach to biological systems. However, I ended up getting sucked in by the nonlinear dynamics thing, and in the process I may have ended up in the most well-adjusted research group in my graduate department. It's hard to complain about that.

3. I'm really happy with my current place as someone who thinks about science as a knowledge-building activity and a community (not to mention as someone who can help scientists-in-training to appreciate these aspects of what they will be doing). But a part of me can imagine being part of a multidisciplinary team of viticulturalists and oenologists.

Are you happy with the field in which you landed, or do you have a secret hankering to live the life of a scientist in another field?

More like this