Hello, I’m an #ActualLivingScientist (AMA)

I’ve seen a lot of calls recently for scientists to do some outreach and explain to the general public what they do for a living, how science works, etc.

A major effort came in February after David Steen, PhD (@AlongsideWild), tweeted that “most Americans can’t name a living scientist.” With some help from Mary Roblyer (@darthmom7), the hashtag #actuallivingscientist took off on Twitter, with scientists introducing themselves and their work.

So…hi!  I want to do something similar here, as well as open the floor up for questions.

My Science Career

I have a Bachelor’s in Zoology from a small, four-year liberal arts university, with emphasis on genetics and animal behavior.  I received an honors diploma for my independent study research on developmental genetics of C. elegans, a tiny hermaphroditic roundworm.  (I also had to sit an exam, but that’s less exciting.)  I also did internships at zoos, doing animal care work as well as observational research on various animal behavior.

After graduation I worked as a zookeeper and then at an animal shelter for a few years.

I currently work at a medical school in the research department.  I am a research assistant in a lab that investigates how to grow new blood vessels in hearts with heart disease, using stem cells created in the lab.  I have been listed as an author on several papers we have published in research journals.

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I also make cool designs with my pipette tips when I bored at work.

Ask Me Anything

As part of my outreach, I’d like to invite my readers to ask me anything they are curious about regarding science.  Some topics might include:

  • Daily tasks of my job
  • Current experiments in the field of stem cell therapy for heart disease
  • Where my funding comes from
  • Clarification of any terminology I’ve used in this post
  • How scientific papers get published
  • Science in science fiction
  • How science intersects with my religion
  • My opinions of current science topics in the news
  • What kind of music I listen to in the lab

For personal and professional reasons, I can’t give too many details about my current work.  But I will do my best to answer all your questions as fully as possibly.

Basically, if you ask a sincere, polite question, you will get a sincere, polite answer.  Leave your question in the comments below, and I’ll respond to you there.  If your question is really good, I might even make a whole post about it. 🙂

The questions don’t even have to be about biology; I have plenty of scientist friends in other disciplines I can appeal to.  Though, if you have a very specific question like How much Force power can Yoda output?, I’d encourage you to try submitting it to What If?  because I don’t have time to watch The Empire Strikes Back repeatedly to check the X-wing’s rate of ascent.

Some previous posts I’ve written about science:

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13 thoughts on “Hello, I’m an #ActualLivingScientist (AMA)

  1. starwarsanon March 10, 2017 / 2:26 pm

    This one is interesting: “How science intersects with my religion”…mainly because I can’t remember your religion. So I’d love to know more about that! If having the two intersect causes doubts, strengthens conviction, or anything else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei March 11, 2017 / 12:58 pm

      I am…(drumroll lol) Catholic.
      This current pope, Francis, has really been an inspiration to me as a Catholic scientist. He worked as a chemical technologist before joining the priesthood, and has been very vocal about the need for us to care for and protect the environment. He is a wonderful advocate for the idea that science and religion do not have to be at odds.

      For me as a biologist, I see God in everything in the natural world. I think many of us enter the field because of of our awe and fascination with the world, and we want to discover all about it and how it works. To my mind, God created a wonderful system that works with rules and mechanisms such as gravity or natural selection (evolution).

      I have heard of some biologists that don’t believe in evolution, or are Young Earthers, etc. and I’m not sure how they reconcile that! But I’m sure some atheists might think that about me, too. Catholics don’t take all parts of the Bible literally in the way some Evangelical Christians do, so I’ve never found a conflict between my faith and established scientific theories. I work with people of several different faiths, although it’s not really something we talk about, but I think many of us see our faith as something that complements our science work.

      I think another part of my faith is that I take ethics in science very seriously (not that you need religion to do so). I want to support ideas like “informed consent” for participating in scientific studies. I also use some animal models in my work and I take that responsibility very seriously.

      Like

      • starwarsanon March 15, 2017 / 10:43 am

        Fascinating! I do hear a lot of good things about the current pope. I am Christian (kind of Protestant, kind of Episcopalian…I was raised Protestant which I think I am at heart, but am currently going to an Episcopalian church which has been eye opening on how different it is. I thought Christian was Christian lol).

        I do see God in a lot as well. My husband is ummm hmmm, kind of a non-believer? But he often says, “How can you look at our world and the universe and not think there is a higher power?” So he believes in A god, just not sure if it’s God/Jesus.

        I also believe in evolution. It does say in the Bible that 1000 years are like 1 day for God, which helps a lot make sense scientifically.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mei-Mei March 16, 2017 / 10:06 pm

        Episcopalian is actually pretty close to Catholic! haha We have a joke, that the Episcopal church has “all of the pomp, and none of the guilt” versus Catholics.

        That’s exactly what I mean about taking things in context vs. literally. I think the Bible is God’s word, but it’s also *man’s interpretation* of God’s word. I’m sure God’s perspective is quite a bit different from ours! It’s still important to think critically when reading, just as you would any other literary or scientific text.

        Like

      • starwarsanon March 17, 2017 / 3:20 pm

        Omg tell me about it. It’s so close to Catholic! My husband though, funnily, was brought up Catholic and thinks it’s nothing like Catholic churches. But me, brought up Protestant, think it’s pretty much Catholic “with none of the guilt”. I do love communion every Sunday now though. I used to be like, “WHHHHY DO WE NEED TO DO THIS EVERY SUNDAY??” because Protestants usually do it once a month…but it’s grown on me and now I look froward to it.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mei-Mei March 18, 2017 / 3:39 pm

        We go to my grandma’s Protestant church when we’re visiting, and she always says that no one comes when it’s communion week, which is kind of a hilarious idea to me as a Catholic. We’d never go to church at all then!

        Like

  2. wildroverblog March 10, 2017 / 4:54 pm

    I’d love to ask you a really clever question, maybe another day, but I’m stuck on the music in the lab. Does it change with that day’s job? I can imagine the mood in the room being very different if you were listening to ‘Carmina Burana’ or ‘Fairy tale of New York’

    Like

    • Mei-Mei March 11, 2017 / 1:07 pm

      Haha, this post will be pinned for a while so come back with your clever questions 🙂

      The music definitely changes! Mostly depending on my mood, but I nearly always have music going. When I’m doing procedures that take several hours with a lot of concentration necessary, I like rock or pop music to keep me energized. Nothing relaxing, or I’ll fall asleep haha. I also take requests from anyone else in the lab, but my two main genres are alternative rock and Korean pop music. The people in my lab are very tolerant of my K-pop proclivities. 😀

      I usually play music from my phone, or stream it. I tried listening to pop radio stations some years ago, but after hearing Rihanna’s “Rude Boy” three times a day for a while I just couldn’t do it anymore.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. NovEllaandBanannabelle March 14, 2017 / 8:09 am

    This is a great idea!

    My first thought when I read this was, who qualifies as a scientist? (I’m crystal-clear on the ‘living’ part). Is it anyone who has been trained in a science field? What if he/she has since changed careers? Is it always lab/field work? Sorry, this question is probably impossible to answer (or way too basic!). There seem to be a lot of different types of scientist, which makes me feel like it’s less clear-cut. I guess I was just wondering if you’ve ever thought about it?

    Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mei-Mei March 16, 2017 / 10:57 pm

      What a great question! There’s actually an ongoing discussion about this topic in one of the science Facebook groups I’m in. People will say, “I’m not a scientist, but…” and then describe all the STEM things they do. And others will chime in to tell them they are still welcome as a scientist, etc.

      I tend to be in favor of more inclusive terms in general. In this case, obviously any one who is a professional scientist (like myself) counts. Lab or field work, data analysis/stats, engineering even, doesn’t matter.

      Plenty of people also do science as a hobby (botanists, astronomers, etc), and I have no problem with them calling themselves scientists. You could say “amateur scientist,” but that kind of has a dismissive connotation. Maybe someone can think of a better way to put it?

      I think if you have a science degree (esp. a PhD/MD/etc.) you’ve earned the right to be a “scientist” whether you’re practicing or not. If I were to switch careers, I personally would probably phrase it as “I trained as a scientist.” (This is basically what I said about the pope, above.)

      What it really boils down to is: do you practice the scientific method in your daily life, on a regular basis? Observing, questioning, testing, etc. I think even kids can be considered scientists! While we like to identify ourselves based on our jobs or hobbies, science can also be seen as more of a mindset, a way of interacting with your environment.

      Of course, “science enthusiast” is also a great alternative if the label of “scientist” doesn’t fit for whatever reason. 🙂

      What do you think? It does seem a basic question, but I like to think through the nuances of such ideas 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Mei-Mei March 17, 2017 / 8:07 am

        Oh, that Facebook group actually provided me with a great term: citizen scientist. So that anyone who’s not a professional scientist but maybe loves National Parks and recycles and keeps up with science in the news can still be called a scientist, just with a label that’s clearer.

        Like

      • NovEllaandBanannabelle March 19, 2017 / 1:04 pm

        Thanks for your thoughtful response 🙂 . That all sounds in line with what I’d expect… I’m glad to know there’s open discussion of it out there, and I’m not alone in wondering this.

        I guess changing fields is like retiring, and of course I wouldn’t stop calling someone a scientist if he/she retired! I hadn’t even though about hobbyists. A ‘citizen scientist’ sounds like a great concept.

        I suppose the field is just going to keep evolving over time.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mei-Mei March 19, 2017 / 1:30 pm

        It’s a great discussion to have. “Citizen scientist” is a great concept; I really want “regular” people to feel engaged in science and understand the things they hear about it.

        Liked by 1 person

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