Explaining what scientists do is complex, and it doesn’t get easier if you are one of those scientists who hasn’t got a lab coat. Occasionally, when asked, I just say that I am a teacher which everyone “gets” and has an easy, positive relation to.
Peter Medawar wrote in Pluto’s Republic that:
Scientists are people of very dissimilar temperaments doing different things in very different ways. Among scientists are collectors, classifiers and compulsive tidiers-up; many are detectives by temperament and many are explorers; some are artists and others artisans. There are poet-scientists and philosopher-scientists and even a few mystics.
I love this quote and use it regularly in my teaching. But there is one factor which unites many scientists across different scientific disciplines and that is passion – most scientists are passionate about what they do (some maybe a bit too much)
A nice example of the passion science inspires among its practitioners (yes we are proud to be geeky) is represented in Carl Zimmer’s Science Tattoo Emporium:
Underneath their sober lab coats and flannel shirts, scientists hide images of their scientific passions. Here they are revealed to all.
Only a truely passionate person would get tattoos such as these
This is a formula called the Y Combinator. It is a fixed-point combinator in the lambda calculus and was discovered by Haskell Curry, a rather prolific mathematician and logician whose work helped start Computer Science.
“What this formula does is calculates the fixed point of a function, which in turn allows for recursion by calling on that fixed point; recursion is perhaps the single most important concept in Computer Science. Being a computer scientist and a mathematician, this formula is very important to me and represents the innate beauty of computer science and mathematical logic.” –Mark
…and only those who share a passion (but no the subject) understand and enjoy them!