The Plight of the Post-Doc

11.27.2009

Did I inherit my sciency-ness?

After a fun-filled Thanksgiving jaunt this week to fabulous New England, J and I are back in NYC and in for the night, wrought with guilt over leaving our kitties alone for 3 days.  They were less than pleased at having been abandoned, and greeted us with their patented Evil Kitty Death Stare:



I know this has nothing to do with my job search or even science, but hey, it's a holiday weekend; things are a little slow.

Anyway, when I was home I got to talk shop with my mom, and by "shop" I don't mean "turkey basting techniques" or "Nordstrom's Christmas Sale," I mean science!  My mom is a scientist too, and I think that's so cool.  For totally boring reasons she didn't finish her PhD, so she doesn't have her own lab.  However, she does hold a senior position in a lab at a very Classy Institution where she does all kinds of exciting research--awesome, futuristic stuff that honestly does not seem all that far off from seriously saving lives.

What's interesting is that when I think about it, I don't think I became a scientist because of her.  Sure, I went to visit her lab all the time when I was growing up, but I can't think of a point where it ever occurred to me that lab work was something I'd like to pursue, too; that all came much later, and at least in my recollection, it was totally organic.  Plus, I kind of hated science when I was in high school.

And yet, here I am!  Is it a coincidence?  Or is an aptitude and love for science something we inherit, even if we don't consciously realize it, and even if it isn't actively cultivated in us?  I'm curious as to how many of you scientists also have parents who are scientists.  If they are, how big a role do you think they played in your choice to pursue a similar path? 

One area in which my mom did play a huge role was where I ultimately went to grad school.   Because I am a location snob, I hadn't planned on applying there.  But she sent me a Science article she'd come across that was published by one of this Classy Institution's faculty, with a note that said "Isn't this what you're interested in?  This is a great school--you should apply!"  She was right, of course, so I did apply, and I of course had an amazing experience whilst getting a top-notch education.  So then, to the extent that my graduate school made me the scientist I am (which I can confidently say is a non-trivial extent), I have my mom to thank for leading me there.  Thanks, mom!

Hmm... writing this post has put me in the mood to dance around singing this:

7 comments:

Zen said...

Neither of my parents had higher education or any sort of technical career.

Ms.PhD said...

I suspect her career influenced you a lot more than you realize. In my limited experience, I know a lot more scientists whose parents are also scientists - and a lot more of us whose parents were not scientists who are struggling to make it in academentia. It may not be a direct dependence, but it is correlated with a variety of advantages that can add up to a big win. Role model effects; networking connections; various kinds of advice.

My parents, for example, have consistently given me advice that was the OPPOSITE of what I should have done. For example, one time they discouraged me from attending an international conference at the last minute. I went anyway, and won an award and made a ton of useful new connections.

But when they said the same thing about a second meeting, though, it created doubts and I ultimately decided not to attend. Maybe if they hadn't said that, I would have gone anyway and had a similarly good experience. Maybe scientist parents would have encouraged me to go. It's a minor example, and I can't blame them for being overprotective, that's just who they are.

But having no knowledge of how academia works, their advice is always based on their protective feelings toward me, which usually conflict with what is necessary for success. They didn't want me to go to college too far away, for example, even though I had found a school that had exactly what I wanted. Since they were paying, I let their possessive, protective attitude determine a major choice in my life. They didn't want me to go to grad school far away for the same reason, but I did. But that has created other problems- the difficulty of flying back to see sick relatives, for example. Maybe if they were more supportive and really understood what was involved (instead of always telling me to just go to industry), that would be one less negative thing in my life (and maybe even a positive).

These things add up.

EthidiumBromide said...

I think I wound up in science because I wanted to be the opposite of my mother. My father is an engineer, so I know I inherit my math interest for him, but my mother hated math and science, and has her undergrad and masters' in school psychology. Never getting along with my mother, I wanted to do everything she disliked, and hence, was drawn towards math and science.

I often wonder, though, if personality-wise, I was drawn to other individuals who also had the personalities of scientists. I have recently discovered, through the marvels of Facebook, that every single guy I have ever dated, including those 4th grade hand-holding at lunch relationships, is now a scientist or engineer. Every last one. Random coincidence, or do science nerds attract?

Dr Becca, PhD said...

@MsPhD: Good points--it's true, my parents have pretty much always trusted me to make my own life decisions with very little intervention, even though I know they do worry about me sometimes. I'm incredibly lucky for that. I hope your parents will come around and see what a great path you've chosen!

@EB: you know how in Never Been Kissed Drew Barrymore's character is supposed to get in with the cool kids, but she immediately joins up with the math team? That is EXACTLY what I would do, too. I gravitate toward the nerdy. Interestingly, I've only dated one scientist my whole life--I seem to prefer the writer/philosopher/tortured genius type.

And if anyone makes fun of me for referencing NBK, I will find a way to block you from my blog.

OverEngineered said...

My mom is a grade-school science teacher. She has a really great outlook on science and sees it as a way to explore the world, test hypotheses, etc. She would not consider herself to be a scientist, though! My dad is very analytical and in a not-science but related profession. Both of my parents have master's degrees. I feel like the biggest influence my parents have had on me is believing in me and letting me be my own person (even though that sounds corny). My parents were happy to let me go to a far away but excellent college, don't complain about me going to grad school at another far away but excellent school, and believe that I will be excellent at my profession.

Physically Blonde said...

My mom is a high school English teacher, and my dad is carpenter. I'm just finishing up my PhD in physics, and they aren't entirely certain where I came from, but I attribute my success to their support and encouragement, much like OverEngineered says. I come from an area where more people have trades than university degrees, and they were always adamant I have some sort of education after high school so I could support myself, but always supported my choices and encouraged me to do whatever I can to the best of my ability. When I was a kid my dad used to tell me I could be whatever I wanted, but whether it was a hairdresser, doctor, or pharmacist -- OWN the shop. So when I started research, there was never any doubt I wanted to run my own lab.

LM said...

Neither of my parents have university degrees, but both have or have had somewhat sciencey jobs and can be kind of geeky in their own ways.

I do think that their encouragement of my interest in science had a lot to do with my decision to pursue it (Although I didn't realize this until recently). They've been extremely supportive in every way though, giving advice but ultimately letting me make the decisions about eg where to go for school.

So I definitely think my parents have had an impact on my career decisions, even if it's not in the direct Mommy-was-a-scientist-so-I-will-be-one-too way.

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