Let me start off by stating that I’m not a traditional scientist, but I am a scientist nonetheless. I have advanced degrees and fellowships in social science disciplines, but I’m not a physicist, biologist, chemist. I don’t wear a lab coat all day or sport a pocket protector, but, then again, neither do most ‘real scientists’.
To a ‘real scientist’ I’m what you’d call a citizen scientist. I say “you”, because a ‘real scientist’ wouldn’t include the scientist part. To them, I’m just a citizen, a wannabe, an armchair whatever. That’s because they feel a need to protect their field by excluding the rest of us, and that’s understandable. We all do it with our chosen professions or cliques.
Oh, you’re just an accountant but not a CPA.
Oh, you’re just a Nurse Practitioner and not a real doctor.
Oh, you’re just a Star Wars fan and not a Whovian.
The rough dictionary interpretation of a scientist is a person who engages in systematic activity to acquire knowledge. That’s pretty loose. That definition would make the average Twihard who reads all the books, sees all the movies, and investigates the fan fiction a scientist. A tighter definition says that a scientist is an individual who uses the scientific method. Still too loose for me.
To me, a scientist is a person who engages in a course of study (not necessarily leading to a college degree) who becomes an expert in a particular science and participates in additional research to further the body of knowledge in that particular science. A traditional scientist would be one who exemplifies the definition by attaining a four year or more degree in their chosen field. Non-traditional scientists are people who find alternative means of education, find themselves attracted to sciences outside their initial educational attainments, or any number of ways that they start contributing to the body of knowledge. A professional scientist would be one who makes money from their contributions, and an amateur would be one that does not. You’ll still find both traditional and non-traditional scientists in the pro and amateur categories.
This leads us to the rise of the Citizen Scientists. According to OpenScience.org, a Citizen Scientist is one who engages in “the systematic collection and analysis of data; development of technology; testing of natural phenomena; and the dissemination of these activities by researchers on a primarily avocational basis.” In other words, the amateur, or perhaps just a person for whom this is not their primary occupation. In science talk, these would be the volunteers, assistants, and interns.
I like labels when they help me, but I abhor them when they’re used to lower my class level or demote me to a junior status in some way. I don’t like the Citizen Scientist moniker, and you shouldn’t either if you consider yourself a true scientist. I consider myself to be a true scientist, even though it’s not my primary vocation. I’ve contributed to research and the furtherance of the body of knowledge in the fields of cognitive psychology, hyperbaric medicine, toxicology, kinesiology, and emergency medicine. I’m published in science books and peer-reviewed journals. Science is a big part of my job, but not all I do.
So, whether you’re a scuba diver collecting biological samples, an entrepreneur analyzing data, or a stay-at-home mom assisting with bird counts at the local state park, don’t let people cut you down just because you may not have a PhD, an embroidered name on a lab coat, or a fancy office.
If you’re a scientist, acknowledge that and make others do the same.
This message was written by Dr. David Powers. You can always find me at www.drdavidpowers.com. Thanks for reading!