Science: Not as scary as it appears
Posted October 3, 2012
The walls that line the hallway outside the lab I am working in are cluttered with posters. The posters are mostly filled with complicated diagrams and descriptive text about the lab’s research. They are a bit intimidating. Generally, posters aim to give an outsider a better idea of some confusing or esoteric information – they simplify the facts. If these posters were the simplified versions the research, then I was sure I would have difficulty understanding the happenings of the lab. However, the lab researchers have given me a more realistic idea of their lab and helped make their research more comprehensible.
The posters reminded me that it is easy to feel stupid when you are thrown into a new project. I have to remember that even other scientists feel lost in a new lab. Feeling uninformed should not be confused with feeling stupid. New information, especially in the form of formulas and graphs, can be scary and intimidating. However, when I ask the researchers for clarification about their research, all of the new information becomes much less scary. I’ve discovered it is my job as a journalist to not to be intimidated, and instead to make this information approachable for the rest of the non-scientific public.
Besides comprehending the lab’s research, I have been learning that a real lab is not like a lab from a television show or a movie. Every moment is not filled with drama. The students and professors in the lab come to work in the clothes they wore to class; they bring their book bags and do homework at the lab tables. It is not the same scene as the one that would be depicted in a movie, where every student wears a white lab coat and goggles. More importantly, I’ve learned that discoveries in the lab take time. The researchers in the lab will not be able to discover a solution to HIV in a month or a year – they might never produce a viable solution. However, this does not mean the lab’s research isn’t useful. Finding a cure for HIV is not the lab’s goal; the research in this lab is a puzzle piece that fits into the grander picture of HIV research. In a movie, the lab has failed if it didn’t produce immediate and direct results. But I’ve learned that real research can be slow and even routine or mundane at times.
I’ve discovered working in a lab isn’t like a movie, and it also isn’t as intimidating as the posters make it seem. With help from Mackenzie, my student research partner who works in the lab, I’ve started to understand some of the scientific language on the posters and used in the lab. It’s my job as a journalist to show the public that this lab isn’t like a television show; it’s my job to show that the scientific research isn’t so scary and unapproachable as it may seem.