Scientists & Their Quirky Habits

You can take a scientist out of the lab, but you can’t quite take lab habits out of the scientist.

Alice TSSS 5

AsianScientist (Jul. 3, 2015) – Whether you like to admit it or not, quite often there are little behaviors that science-y people have in the lab that make their way to the open world and signify our profession to everyone else. Little things that might seem completely normal to us but when viewed by others, it might seem a bit strange.

For example, if you’re the kind of scientist who works in a lab that requires you to wear gloves, you probably got into the habit of scratching or wiping your nose or chin on your shoulder rather than de-glove and scratch with your hands. And you’ve possibly found yourself in a social situation outside of the lab and done the exact same thing, only to have people staring at you for having done something so strange. I will admit this happened to me recently in a bar.

Luckily, I was with other scientists who said they did the exact same thing–except for the theoretical physicist who did no lab work and looked at us like we were all crazy. But that’s only because he didn’t understand how annoying it can be to de-glove, especially when you’re doing something like cell culture.

Kitchen confidential

I’ve already discussed about how spending time in a lab has probably conferred some cooking skills on you because you’re got some pretty mean experience at putting things together. But sometimes people take it to the extreme.

I once attended a dinner party thrown by a couple; the male partner was a scientist and the female partner was in IT. Possessing some strong feminist tendencies, I noticed my female friend was doing all the kitchen work and (half) jokingly demanded why the husband wasn’t helping out with the cooking. He replied that she had banned him from the kitchen for both their sakes, a fact that she confirmed. After the dinner, I asked how this situation came to be.

According to her, he had offered to make dinner some time towards the beginning of their relationship. At some point he left the table to make a sauce and after a fair amount of time and silence, she eventually went into the kitchen… only to see him staring at the meniscus on the 100 ml of milk he had poured into a measuring cup. When asked what he was doing, he said he was unsure whether to use the cup as is, or to throw it out and pour again because the volume was technically incorrect.

His reason was that after that dinner, they got food poisoning. Both seem like fair reasons to me!

Defending your disciplinary turf

A geneticist friend of mine recounted a tale of when they and a computer scientist were stuck in a traffic jam and they happened to notice something that amused the both of them–there was a vehicle not so far away with the licence plate featuring the letters DNA. Deoxyribonucleic acid, bitches!

And as they allowed a different car to change lanes, it revealed something that added to her mirth–the car in front of them had the letters SNP on the licence plate. DNA with a single nucleotide polymorphism! At this point the computer scientist stopped laughing.

“You biomedical scientists,” she scowled, “SNP clearly stands for strictly nondeterministic polynomial.”

What followed was an argument about whose acronym was more suitable, but the mood was restored when it occurred to them that they had both applied work associated acronyms to something that definitely wasn’t talking about genetics or complexity classes.

Universal nerd behavior

But sometimes the things peculiar to scientists aren’t work-specific, and the perfect case is the weather. This might sound like a cliché, but the weather can distinguish scientists from non-scientists no matter whether you’re biology-based or not.

Case in point–thunder storms. Imagine the setting: a summer barbecue, approximately 12 people are there with a mix of professions (dentists, engineers, teachers, lab scientists, a few accountants. As the day turns into night and everyone is sitting around the fire enjoying the drinks, a burst of lighting brightens the sky.

“Oh, we should probably go inside,” says one of the party.

“No, we’ve still got time,” replies another guest.

“Didn’t you notice the thunder and lightning?”

“Well I haven’t heard any thunder yet so it’s still far away.”

Followed by a chorus of, “Hey, I was counting too!!!” from exactly the kind of people who would do such a thing.

This article is from a monthly column called The Sometimes Serious Scientist. Click here to see the other articles in this series.


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

Alice Ly is a postdoctoral researcher in Germany. She completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne, and has a BSc in Pathology (First Class Hons) and BA (Art History). She enjoys microscopy, cakes, photos of puppies, and removing warm items from the incubator.

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