Before You Fall In Love With A Scientist

Did you go out for a date with a scientist this Valentine’s day? Here are a few things you might want to consider before date number two!

AsianScientist (Feb. 16, 2015) – Much (virtual) ink has been spilled over the pages of our columns to show that scientists are people too. We watch movies, have hobbies, and even take the occasional holiday. And like all other human beings, one of our deepest needs is the need to be loved.

But as our columnists also show, scientists tend to do things a little… differently. In my own experience, there are challenges unique to people who have chosen the path of science, and accordingly, for people who have chosen to love them. Here are just three:

  1. No time
  2. There are many jobs out there that are very demanding on an employees’ time; lawyers, investment bankers and doctors all come to mind. But scientists are unique in that they are more like small business owners than employees. Their careers revolve around building the “brand” of their lab’s name; to do this they need to compete for funding, manage the human and material resources of the lab, and actively “market” the lab’s research through publications and conferences. All this, on top of teaching and administrative commitments, leaves time for little else.

    Even if you manage to get them out of their labs, you might find that their minds are still at the bench. Many scientists confess to thinking obsessively about their work, so much so that it’s almost viewed as some sort of virtue, a mark of commitment to the cause of science. I myself have been guilty of bringing the odd research paper on holiday, and feeling very guilty for leaving the lab while on said holiday.

  3. Uncertainty
  4. I don’t just mean the uncertainty of not being able to tell you when they’re free for dinner, but the much longer term uncertainty baked into the lives of scientists. For example, don’t ever ask a PhD student when they’re going to graduate. Trust me, they are asking themselves the same question nearly all the time, and in a despairing rather than simply curious fashion.

    And the uncertainty only gets worse after they graduate. If your beloved scientist is in academia, they live a perilous existence from tenure committee to tenure committee, and have to duke it out for grants on a yearly basis. If he or she finds herself in industry, the situation is not necessarily better, particularly in the biotech industry where hostile takeovers and mergers seem to be the norm.

  5. Re-locations
  6. One of the great things about being a scientist is that there are ample opportunities to further your career internationally. The bad news is that this can sometimes mean constant cross-border re-locations, and often through the years when you begin to want to sink down roots. Moving across the globe can be exciting when you are a lone graduate student, but when you have small children, furniture and pets in tow, it can become incredibly stressful.

    If you also happen to be a scientist yourself, congratulations, you now face the two-body problem. For the uninitiated, this refers to the difficulty of securing not one but two suitable academic jobs in the same university or at least two institutions within reasonable travelling distance of each other. Many times, one partner or the other has had to give up an attractive job offer or go through long periods of separation for the sake of their career.

Fair warning

So dear readers, consider this post a fair warning before falling in love with a scientist! But if it’s too late and you find yourself caught in love, I hope that this guide helps you understand the various pressures that scientists face. There are undoubtedly challenges to loving a scientist, but then again, they are also willing to endure quite a lot for the things they care about. So if there’s sufficient chemistry (teehee), and you go in with your eyes open (behind safety goggles), why not?

As a quick glance at the acknowledgement page of any thesis will reveal, scientists really do need their loved ones and family members’ help to deal with all the stress and uncertainty in their lives.

Thank you for loving the scientists in your life!

This article is from a monthly column called From The Editor’s Desk(top). Click here to see the other articles in this series.


Copyright: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Scrubhiker (USCdyer)/Flickr/CC.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Rebecca did her PhD at the National University of Singapore where she studied how macrophages integrate multiple signals from the toll-like receptor system. She was formerly the editor-in-chief of Asian Scientist Magazine.

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