Strange things for science

It is a strange life, that of a scientist. Each individual must find their own niche to specialise in meaning that no two scientists’ daily work lives are the same. One day you can be standing in front of a lecture hall filled with 200 people, the next you could be setting up camp under a rainforest canopy. Perhaps you will spend a say sitting through soul destroying meetings with bureaucrats or dissecting the gonads out of a lizard. And every so often scientists will find themselves doing the most obscure task that, to anyone else looking on, seems completely absurd. Thus was born the twitter hashtag #strangethingsforscience.

It all started when I found myself buying several thousand golf tees on eBay. It had me wondering under what other conceivable circumstances, other than a life in science, would I have found myself having to do this? And I realised that it wasn’t the first time I had stopped at work for a moment of reflection to ponder ‘what the hell am I doing with myself?’. So I put the call out to other scientists on the twittersphere to see what other strange things they have found themselves doing in the name of science.

Why was I buying 4000 golf tees on eBay? I’ll keep that a mystery for now but I will let you know when the paper is published! When you’re a scientist, almost every experiment you do is unique and has never been attempted before. When given such unique problems to solve scientists must come up with some very creative solutions. There are a myriad of tasks scientists need to complete be it building custom made animal enclosures, searching for rare plant specimens, or finding out new ways of shooting lasers through objects, and there are endless ways of achieving such exciting tasks. This can be a difficult but immensely enjoyable part of conducting research. Often the absurdity of what you are doing only dawns upon you when you find yourself having to explain to innocent bystanders what it is and why you’re doing it.

Perhaps the most common run in scientists have with society is when innocent retail staff are faced with bizarre requests they were never prepared for. Finding that perfect paint/glue/toothbrush/rope/torch/whatever can be tricky and there is no end to the list of strange objects you will find yourself having to buy for an upcoming experiment. To all the chemists, hardware stores, art shops, delicatessens etc. that have helped a scientist fulfil their odd requests we are eternally grateful.

So should you ever come across someone doing something strange, say jumping for joy when they find a lump of poo on the side of a road, or maybe just standing in a field staring at a plant for several hours on end. Have no fear, they may not be crazy, they may just be a scientist, or perhaps both, either way feel free to make them a cup of tea and congratulate them on a successful day. And if you think life is getting a bit dull, and you could use some variety to spice up your life think about becoming a scientist, who knows what strange things you could be getting up to today?

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