Learning to Embrace the Scientist in Me…

4 06 2010

As my peers graduate this week, I think about what my B.Sc. will mean to me.

As a scientist, I am equipped to question the accepted beliefs of today and create questions to direct the future.  Just because marijuana is illegal, is it more dangerous than nicotine or alcohol?  How do we rectify national and international stigma (and lawsuits) surrounding InSite and other harm reduction centres with scientific evidence that it works much better than prohibition of drugs?

We, as scientists, are taught to base our beliefs on the evidence rather than the norms of the day.  We are made to understand the importance of critically assessing the primary literature instead of solely embracing Wikipedia.  Some of us are inspired to do the research ourselves, which will inform environmental, health, and even political policy.  These lessons are some of the distilled essences of what we have learned in our years.  This is the value of our degree that will carry us into success in whatever profession we end up in – law, medicine, student development, science, business, public policy, government, advocacy, NGOs, community development, or whatever the case may be.

As a scientist, I’ve noticed a tendency in myself (and others) to avoid being labeled as just a scientist, because it carries a lot of stigma.  “You are a scientist, so you must be wanting to go into medical school.  Everything you do must be a calculated move to go to medical school.”  And so to avoid such judgment, we identify as everything else before we identify ourselves as scientists.  We avoid talking about our love for science or medicine, because in some ways we are forced to feel ashamed about it or fear the pressure of telling others coming back to bite us if we end up not applying or not being accepted into medical school.  We, as science students, are forced to live through the assumption that we are all applying to medical school (which carries all sorts of negative connotations) and then we are also judged if we decide that we genuinely do not want to do medicine (“Aww…it’s because you weren’t accepted, isn’t it?”)

Every one of our journeys is unique, and we should not have to justify our decisions to anyone but ourselves.  I realize as I’m writing this that as I am taking an intensive course on HIV/AIDS this month, my vocabulary and strong ideas around lingering stigma in the community have carried over into this blog post about scientists and doctors.  It is a little bit of a stretch to compare the stigma around IV drug users or HIV+ patients or homosexuality to that of scientists, but I’m taking the metaphor there anyway!

The bottom line: Yes, I love science.  Yes, I am going into medicine.  And no, that does not define who I am, but it is certainly an important part of it.

I am embracing the scientist (and the future doctor) in me, and no one is going to stop me!  I encourage you to do the same =).  My very good friend, Ms. Nancy Yao Yao, certainly knows how to embrace her inner medical nerd (or is it geek?  I hear there are big differences…).

My B.Sc. in Pharmacology at the University of (Beautiful) British Columbia prepared me uniquely for the world, and you are going to know it!

So congratulations to my amazing classmates and friends who are graduating this month – celebrating the incredible personal and professional journeys together for the last four or five or six or seven years of our lives.  I encourage everyone to embrace their inner scientist, artist, human kineticist, Sauder-ist or whatever you may be, and find the lesson(s) in your degree that you can use for the rest of your life, in whatever profession, conventional…or not!




2 responses

10 06 2010

But I have to tell you a secret. I’m really only a closet-science-embracer. I never talk science to non-scientists, even if I really really want to. Oh, Dr. Future Lam (hahah, oops, that sounds like you’re not Lam – I mean Future Dr. Lam), what’s the fix?

23 07 2010

Your posts are wonderfully written and inspiring. Yet another big perspective shift for me; thank you. I’m glad I found your blog through Eastwood!

I’ve been feeling the stigma of being a science student since the first day of university, and the comments range from “oh, so you’re going to be a doctor?” to “let me guess: human bio, hospital volunteering, mcat next summer, …” More and more I feel like I’m not even a person anymore, that comments like this are reducing me to the statistic that I am. I don’t know if it’s enough to simply know that you only answer to yourself, when we are such social beings and are bombarded with so much opinion.

On the other hand, I think a lot of the pressure is self-imposed. If I hadn’t been wary of the premed stereotype, I wouldn’t be so controlled by it. Maybe I made it much more real than it could’ve been. I guess the only solution is to stand tall and look forward.

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