Lately, as I find myself in conversations with professors and scientists, I'm noticing the other side, too-- how we shape science. I think about this a lot too-- our unique giftings, skill sets, talents, creativity-- but that's not what I mean here. Lately, I find myself confronted with the reality of the human element in the cold, science machine... behind the scenes.
PhD programs are hard. Science is hard. Science gets in the way of life... but life gets in the way of science, too. We are off in our ivory towers, sometimes accused that our involvement in academia is not real life, not real work. But we are living and working. We are exploring and discovering. We are teaching and researching. And we're doing it alongside real life.
We are loving, needing, worrying, heartbroken, excited, daydreaming. Just like everyone else. We are striving for financial stability, and worried about our student debt-- but we need to focus on writing tomorrow's exam. We are grieving the death of a grandparent, a friend, a brother; a breakup-- but we have to teach. We are falling in love, distracted, but there are subjects to run. We've just been given a diagnosis, but we focus on our statistics. We see the facebook post that our significant other is in a new relationship, and walk into our meeting the very next minute. We get good news, but don't have time to celebrate, because a student is about to arrive.
So we go into the bathroom, gain our composure, splash some cold water on our face and go do science. So we silently squeal, send a text or two if we can, and go do science. We show up.
Or we don't.
Projects left incomplete- because collaborators grew apart, interests changed. And interests do change- because interests can be fickle. Delays in projects because of location changes, marriages, spouses' goals-- "She got her dream job, so they moved and he left the project." Delays in projects because of pregnancies, babies born. "She became a mother, so she's taken a smaller role in the project for the time being." Delays in projects because of life, death, care-taking, grieving, personal tragedy, depression.
It's not something that you'll find accounted for in a grant proposal or report. It's not part of the scientific method. You probably won't find it in a handbook or a textbook or even in an ethics seminar. But we shape the science, and the science shapes us. This is our work, and we make it work as best we can. Even in the face of difficulty. Sometimes science wins, sometimes life does. We try to keep the co-habitation as symbiotic as possible, lest one area become parasitic to the other. But we shape each other, the way a river sculpts the surrounding rocks, the way our bones and muscles are shaped by our repeated movements. Just like every other job. Just like every other person. Because the reality of science is it's done by scientists. And scientists are people.