Why did I become a Scientist?
This is a question that people ask me often when they meet me (also during job interviews), and it’s a question it took me some time to have an actual answer for. In the past, when I was still a doctoral student, I always gave answers like “Science is my passion”, or “Because I believe in Science”, or even “Because Science tries to provide answers to the questions of the world”. This all sounds like plain bullshit to me (no offending to anyone who actually has any of these among their reasons), I was avoiding giving an honest and thoughtful answer. The reality is, that I never actually reflected on why I decided to be a scientist, why did I choose the path of research, and one of the reasons to avoid it, is because it became very painful to think of the reasons (but that’s a trauma-related story for another post).
Some many months ago, I started to feel bothered by work, but that’s not new, who doesn’t feel like that, right? However, this feeling became stronger and stronger with time passing, so I decided to have some introspection on it. I realized then, that the thing bothering me was the impact of my work in AI on people’s lives and well-being. All this wave of chatGPT and Co. and the missuses of them also reached me and my daily work, and my inner self keep being triggered by the fact that the things I was doing, could also go in that direction and that I should be double or triple aware of this. All this made me remember that when I started to learn about research, when I went through the path of ethics in science and how easy it is to corrupt it, and it hit me… The reason I became a scientist in the first place is because I wanted to help people with the skills I had, as idealistic as it sounds, I wanted to contribute to solving the world’s problems (even if a super tiny little) and retribute to society.
After this, I reviewed many decisions I have made on the way of the last 15 years, the pressure that Academia (Profs, Universities, and Institutions) puts on researchers to follow a particular path, the budgetary restrictions, the industry demands, and how I have seen many fellow researchers suffering the same. But it also made me aware of what I’m doing now and where I want to go, in a way was also a career enlightenment moment.
In the end, I realized that I’m a Scientist who started many years ago with a noble and positive motivation to do research, and I want to keep this scientist very much alive in myself. I also realized that I will always be Dr. Taco the Scientist, because it goes beyond my career or job title, for me it’s a lifestyle, it’s a way of approaching all things by wanting to know more and keep a critical but open mindset, it makes me be the person that my friends and family know for having all kinds of knowledge on random topics, and the person they can ask about some weird topic and who will go in a possum hole at 2am reading on her phone some research about it (and then writing here some post).
So, maybe at some point, I may not be a researcher at work, I may not pursue research projects on behalf of a company or University, my job title will mutate into whatever life has ahead for me, and that’s just fine because I will be Dr. Taco in my heart.