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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Then again, who knows?

Now I'm reading Naturalist by the great scientist and ant specialist E.O. Wilson. He is one of those people I mentioned yesterday, the most successful type of scientist who keeps that deeply engrained passion while doing groundbreaking science. In fact, he even says he doesn't want to define that core curiosity for fear that defining it might make it disappear. Reading about his memories of growing up in the deep south, keeping detailed notes of his ant findings that 50 years later still provided a source of insightful data in his research,it gives me hope that a true naturalist at heart can still find a way to be a "good" scientist in today's field so dominated by genetic labs and biotechnology.

"For the obsessed and ambitious, the only strategy is to probe in all directions and learn where one's abilities are exceptional, where mediocre, where poor, then fashion tactics and protheses to achieve the best possible result. And never give up hope that the fates will allow some unexpected breakthroughs...The advice I give to students in science is to move laterally up and down and peer all around. If you have the will, there is a discipline in which you can succeed...Be a hunter and explorer, not a problem solver." ~E.O. Wilson

It inspires me and gives me hope. It makes me feel like I can still be a scientist if what I really want to do is go out there and observe and explore.

My thesis adivsor has been urging me to retool a paper for publication. I think it will be a project for this fall. Am I meant to be a scientist, or not? Do I have to define myself, do I have to choose?


Julie said...

i so appreciate this posting. i am a grad student in animal behavior but often feel forced to redesign my interests/questions for the funding agencies. fortunately, i am also an older student, unconcerned about a long and prosperous career in upper level academia. i do love biology and feel that a naturalist is every bit a scientist, describing, recording, and discovering the natural history upon which many other studies may be based. sometimes, though, it is tough to defend oneself as that in today's scientific community.

j.m.a. said...

I'm so glad you're enjoying the Naturalist. I wish I had time right now to read it again! Personally, and I'm sure this won't surprise you, I think the science community would suffer to be lacking contributions from you, one of those people who's capable of doing science and experiencing awe in the process. I'll always think of you as a scientist, even if you don't! And when I talk about you I say you study Orcas. This post also makes me wonder, what did you think of the Parrot movie? Mark Bittner's another one of those people who can study and admire at the same time.

Monika Wieland said...

Julie, I'm glad to hear there are other kindred spirits out there. I would love to hear about your experiences and animal behavior work as a grad student. Feel free to send me an e-mail at

j.m.a, I'm finding Naturalist inspirational in a lot of ways. I'm glad you'll always think of me as a scientist! That means a lot. I enjoyed the parrot movie, and he definitely had a passion for the animals. But how much science did he really do? It was really unclear how he was supporting himself, and how he was sharing information if at all. We should definitely talk about all this more sometime!