The Good Old Days…
I miss the days when we were all scientists. As children, discovery and invention applied to contexts of everyday life, from the arrangement of building blocks in the playroom to the study of dirt and pebbles of the backyard. During long summer afternoons at the beach, I can fondly recall my tireless endeavors to plot the best canal system through the sand. When the first snow of the season fell in November, I would contemplate the most effective way to mold a proper snowman. When all else failed and there was nothing left to do outside, I would pass time in the kitchen, mixing various sauces and condiments from the refrigerator in hopes of producing some sort of massive explosion. And although my sand sculptures often crumbled, my snowmen melted, and my food concoctions failed to produce anything but a predictably wretched odor, I was content with my role as a master of science.
I can’t quite put my finger on it, but at some point during my maturation, science converted from a physical to a far more conceptual entity. As a college freshman and intended biology major, I devote far less time to experimentation than I did as a kindergarten student. Although currently enrolled in multiple science courses, class time is wholly dedicated to the memorization of uninspired lectures, and lab periods are regularly consumed by note taking. It often feels as though my ability to actually do science has been overshadowed by the precedent to learn about science. As do my classmates, I spend far more time researching the efforts of others rather than forming my own basis of knowledge through trial and error. In the context of collegiate study, this is obviously necessary and appropriate. After all, the administration most likely wouldn’t appreciate hoards of students converting university property into personal lab spaces. Not to mention, the material presented in our textbooks is essential to a complete understanding of the subject as a whole. Whether practical or not, however, the manner in which science is taught to college freshman simply isn’t as fun as we once imagined.
As we now discuss the rhetorical nature of science during class, I once again find myself nostalgic for a simpler time. While it certainly is interesting to consider many of the more abstract implications of defining science, such discussions also sadly serve to remind me that I am no longer a wide-eyed child. The world of discovery has its boundaries. Ethics, proper methodology, and observational acuity define the limited landscape in which experimentation is meaningful. While each and every GW science student has experienced this transition at some point in his or her life, we rarely take the necessary moment to appreciate its magnitude. Growing up is both a gift and a curse. While we can learn to appreciate the complexity of the surrounding world, many of our most innocent assumptions are lost forever. Science is no longer whatever I want it to be. There are rules, and these rules will forever govern my experiences as a student and a professional. Every once in a while, though, it can’t hurt to take a step back into the past… a past where all I needed to be a scientist was a set of beakers and the hope of making something explode.