What scientists can be grateful for on Thanksgiving

November 28, 2013 | 2 comments


It is time for the second installment of the copycat series, where I shamelessly copy posts someone else wrote, because he or she said it better than I ever could.


Today is thanksgiving, and although I consider it just another random American holiday that gives me an extra day off from work and a reason to eat excessive amounts of good food, I am quite fond of writing lists of things I am thankful for.

Adam Ruben wrote this awesome list about what scientists can be grateful for on Thanksgiving. It is spot on.

• We are thankful for our families who don’t flinch when we say that we need to go into the lab at midnight, even though the gist of this sentiment is that we’re choosing bacterial cultures over them.

• We are thankful that some branches of science have produced some pretty useful things, because their success allows the other branches to keep working on fun, pointless crap below the radar.

• We are thankful for the goggles that keep our eyeballs intact, albeit at the expense of long-lasting dark lines on our foreheads.

• We are thankful for the big words that make us sound smart.

• We are thankful that our profession inspires an entire branch of wonderfully inventive fiction. Not too many jobs do that; you never wander into Barnes & Noble to find that the Science Fiction section is flanked by Construction Fiction and Answers-Phones-at-a-Nonprofit Fiction. Granted, historians can claim Historical Fiction, but which would you rather read: Orson Scott Card or a 950-page novel set against the backdrop of the Rutherford B. Hayes Administration?*

• We are thankful to the funding agencies that support our research. Without them, we’d be at home experimenting on our cats.

• We are thankful for high-quality journals that allow us to share our advances with the world, like Science — and there’s this other one, I think, a British one that starts with an “N”. Nurture? Neighbors? I don’t remember.

• We are thankful for Web browsers that allow us to cover our search history, so that when a student asks us a basic question we can find the answer on Wikipedia and pretend we knew it all along.

• We are thankful for the teachers who have mentored us and filled us with a sense of wonder about science. (We are not thankful for the teachers who just sat at their desks and doodled while we filled out worksheets about the solar system. You know who you are, Mr. X. Those worksheets taught me nothing but the word “gibbous.”)

• We are thankful for the people who hear about scientific advances and don’t automatically put the prefix “Franken-” in front of them.

• We are thankful that Ph.D. programs in the sciences, as much as we complain about them, aren’t nearly as horrifying as, say, Ph.D. programs in the humanities. I just heard today from a friend in his ninth year of a comparative literature Ph.D. who thinks he might finish “in a year and a half.” At least the job market for comp lit Ph.D. awardees is thriving, right?

• We are thankful for coffee. So, so thankful.

• We are thankful for all of the wacky people in lab coats who smash liquid nitrogen-chilled racquetballs or microwave bars of soap to show kids how awesomely radical science can be. Additionally, we are thankful that kids are gullible.

• We are thankful for the knowledge that eating beets can turn your pee red. This has nothing to do with science, but seriously, I was freaking out this morning.

• We are thankful for that one colleague who knows statistics. There’s always one.

• We are thankful that we no longer have to conclude our findings with “because the Church says so” or “because of an imbalance in the four vital humours.”

• We are thankful to the peers who review all of the peer-reviewed papers in the world, except when they ask us to perform additional experiments, because then they’re just being ignorant morons with stupid faces.

• We are thankful for significant figures and for those who understand how to use them properly. So, not undergrads.

• We are thankful for the general dearth of social grace at work that allows us to fit in so well.

• We are thankful for the metric system. There, I said it.

• But most of all, we are thankful that we get to spend our careers asking and answering interesting questions — even when those answers only spawn more questions, and even when those questions are: “Why are the data so messed up?” or “Why didn’t the controls work again?” We are thankful for the opportunity to lead lives of investigation and discovery.

Photocredit: Hal Mayforth [source]

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