I became a scientist because I enjoy finding things out and solving problems. I like the freedom and creativity involved and was lucky that I was brought up to think I could do anything. I had two scientist parents who tried to treat me and my sister the same as my two brothers (we were given toy trucks, Lego and science kits for birthdays!). We were also encouraged to question everything. This helped shape my vision of science as a process of asking questions but I later came to realise that this isn’t a universal experience. When Jane Goodall was asked why there aren’t more female scientists, she replied, “Women tend to be more intuitive, or to admit to being intuitive, and maybe the hard science approach isn’t so attractive. The way science is taught is very cold. I would never have become a scientist if I had been taught like that.” I agree with her that science is often taught in a quite misleading way and that this can put some people off. It can be presented as a collection of facts but science is much more than that. Science is a way of seeing the world and a process for understanding it. Intuition is valuable in science but ideas also have to be tested; science is creative and collaborative and scientists are often passionate about what they do. Science offers a broad range of career options that suit many different personalities and skill sets so I think it is really important not to be misled by ideas of “mad scientist” stereotypes. Science is sometimes hard but I’m glad that I chose it as a career.
Professor Susan Howitt is the Associate Director of Education in the Research School of Biology.