I was talking to a certain Mr. Igno-Arrogant, a distant friend of a friend’s friend. We started talking about what we do for a living. I told him that I work towards developing the scientific workforce, more specifically, a PhD in Science Education. Now I am not totally new to confused looks when someone hears about my subject of interest. I am more than happy most of the time to explain what that means. Some even ask if this means I educate people or teach science. It is neither. Broadly speaking, I just research on how to motivate more people to study science, how to reach out to those at the risk of losing interest, I research on how to teach teachers to teach science better, and so on. Many ask me is this real science, since they perceive science to be something done mixing chemicals or running instruments, even writing codes, but something that either involves a computer or a grim-looking laboratory straight out of science fiction. Most people do not regard the practice of any other forms of science as real science. I would attribute it to a little shortsightedness and a lot of difference in philosophy, but I digress here.
This gentleman, and of course it had to be a man, gentle or not, listened to me explain what I do for my PhD. Then he arched his eyebrows, almost convincing me he was impressed, and told me what a great plan it was. On hearing the word “plan”, I got a little confused. I’ll paraphrase what he explained to me.
He was all praises, genuinely, without sarcasm. He told me that instead of doing a PhD in something challenging, and more demanding, like engineering or nuclear science, it is great that I choose to do a PhD in something not many people know about, let alone choose it as a career option. According to him, this means I would face less competition, less struggle, and would establish myself faster than any of my peers studying something more in demand, like medicine or computer engineering. It would take me less time, lesser number of publications, and lesser efforts to have a scintillating career. He was all praises for me, earnestly, honestly.
Honestly, I did not what to tell this dude. That just because he doesn’t know about a field doesn’t make it any less demanding or easier to establish oneself in, like he thought. He had an offensive tone to his voice, just like we used to look down on someone in school who studied home science or gardening compared to say, computer science or electronics. That was in school of course, and I have huge issues with establishing a hierarchy in education where certain subjects are meant for intelligent people, and certain subjects are meant for the brainless lot to ensure they can still have some job and not die of starvation. Science is not just the phenomenon of studying atoms and molecules, it is the phenomenon of studying anything, be it human psychology, workings of a political system, or the way certain spices and vegetables go well together when you cook them. Now certain professions have a greater demand in the society than others, and as we have witnessed it, things evolve around a certain pattern. My parents told me that when they were in college, engineering or medicine weren’t the most coveted things to do, and the better students did a B.Sc and M.Sc in “pure sciences” (another term I have issues with. Why pure sciences? Is there anything impure?). Things changed, the engineering subjects came more in demand, computer sciences became somewhat a “hot” field, followed by biotechnology. Now do you choose to study something just because it is in vogue, or do you study it because it aligns to your interests? The society needs as much of engineers as it needs teachers, scientists, economists, geologists, historians, writers, and political scientists. The society even needs "logists" less heard of- rheologists, nematologists, and orthodontists; and I am not throwing random terms to emphasize its importance. Anyway, I have digressed here. My main issue was the fact that this dude actually thought it is better to study something “haabi-jaabi” (Bengali word for “anything not of much worth”) and face less competition than study something high in demand. I couldn’t decide if I should have ignored his arrogance or arrowed his ignorance in the right direction. I did neither. I just smiled at him and told him, “You are so right. Hope not many people discover this secret”. I think my sarcasm was wasted on him.