Am I a scientist? What’s a scientist?

questionI have a PhD in Medical Genetics – but I no longer do wet lab research. Can I call myself a scientist?

I spend most of my time teaching at the local medical school and the science centre and am often introduced as a scientist – I think to give a short-hand history of my education (not MD for example). But is that fair? I’m getting involved in education research and I do mentor students with their projects but I don’t run my own lab.

I started to think about it after reading a post by Science Groupie about answering ‘are you a scientist?’ as an enthusiast outsider. With my training, I would answer ‘yes’ but then again, is that right?

In the Science Groupie post and in other scenarios, science and music have been compared. In one conversation, the idea that scientists learn facts the way that musicians learn technique was brought up (probably deserves its own post in response). In my case, I have been a working musician – enough to pay the bills! – and I have a degree in piano performance. Yet I don’t say that I’m a musician anymore. It has been about 12 years since I performed in public and about 8 years since I made any money with my music. Yet it has been about 8 years since I was running intense experiments and I’ll say that I’m a scientist. Am I wrong?

Can you ever be a past scientist? I often say that ‘I used to be a musician’ but I don’t want to say that about science.

This seems to be a question that others have posed (example: crisis of identity). I was also interested to see that I’m a Scientist Get Me Out of Here sees me as a scientist:

 but I’m still not sure…

I’d like to say that I look at the world as a scientist – always asking questions and then looking for evidence. Is that enough? Once you have the grad degree, do you get to call yourself a scientist forever?


  1. says

    If you weren’t engaged in mentoring students and data analysis I might suggest non-practicing scientist. I’d like to think that if you were called to the lab you’d be able to pick up where you left off if you are up to speed with what is happening in current research. You still have the critical thinking skills, data handling skills, writing skills, and ability to develop project ideas. Perhaps you’d have to learn some new techniques, but that isn’t so different from a PI that does the mentoring and grant writing, but couldn’t do many of the lab techniques used by his/her students.
    So, I’d go with scientist engaging primarily in educational activities 😉

  2. Megannantel says

    Interesting comparison between still being considered a scientist but not a musician … it’s almost a contradiction. Maybe being a scientist is more about the way you look at questions and life instead just a person who does research while a musician is just someone who does music? in other words, maybe the definition of a scientist is more free?

Any comments? Please play nice.