Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My Dry Cleaner Can!

According to a recent Research! America poll:

Americans were asked whether or not they could name a living scientist. 65% said they could not, and another 18% were unable to accurately name a living scientist.


The best know living scientist was Steven Hawking, named by 7% of respondents.

Those of us who do science in the US are rarely described as scientists. As an MD, I am usually described as a physician, not a scientist. Even though I only do clinical medicine 30% of the time, most people see me as a healer, not an investigator.

Most scientists I know are introduced by their faculty appointment, not as scientists. The US population generally believes that university faculty fill their days with teaching. Unless you have experience in academia beyond obtaining a bachelor’s degree, you probably do not appreciate the role that research plays in that arena.

So why can my dry cleaner tell everyone that I am a scientist?

Well, when our new research building opened, the local paper did a supplement on the facility and all the scientists with lab space. They ran a photo and a brief description of my studies, and the woman who works the 7am shift asked me about it. She knows I am also a physician and has asked me kidney stone questions as well.

young-frankenstein We all know the stereotypes: mad, nerdy, consumed, unfashionable. People don’t know anyone who answers these descriptions.

We need better PR.

So let’s take the advice of New Voices for Research. If you’re a scientist, introduce yourself that way. Let’s start breaking those stereotypes. The world should know us better, one person at a time.


  1. When asked, I always explain my job by saying "I'm a scientist." Try explaining "postdoc" to a random person on the train sometime.

    However, unfortunately I'm mad, nerdy, consumed and unfashionable, so I'm not sure I'm helping anything... :)

  2. OOOh.... I like that!
    Or maybe a lapel pin so it won't interfere with my ensemble...

  3. Ensembles aside, here is a t-shirt for a magazine, but most people would probably mistake for a label, maybe that would work? I do like the t-shirts posted by Anon 3:17.

    This also does double duty for promoting a research society.