57 varieties

At the end of the last post I said it wasn’t important what sort of scientist I was. This isn’t entirely true, once you leave school you have to make a fairly definite decision as to what you will study at university. In fact, in the UK, you narrow down your options quite significantly at the age of 16, when you chose which A-levels to do.

This is a rather timely post since across the country thousands of students will be exchanging information on A-levels as they start at university, and it’s a pretty safe topic of conversation.

For my A-levels I did chemistry, physics and a double helping of maths. To be honest it’s a very long time ago that I decided to follow this path, so some of the thinking behind this choice has left me. I like playing with numbers (and computers) which explains the maths. Chemistry was just fun: involving fire, fumes, pretty colours, fragrant solvents and other cool stuff – okay cooking peas in different salt solutions and processing cabbage to measure vitamin levels and the thing with the liver and the apple were a bit unpleasant but at least gripping – I can remember them 20 years later. I don’t remember greatly enjoying physics at school, but it seemed to have great potential (astronomy, Einstein, gadegts and so forth). I really wish I’d done biology as well, I think I was put off by the “naming of parts” and the fact that most of the specimens for dissection had gone off a bit.

Of course as time passes the broad division of science into three areas (physics, chemistry, biology) seems awfully crude and as I progressed through academia I seemed to end up in ever smaller silos – hence the 57 varieties. Back in the good old days scientists ranged freely over vast areas, nowadays it feels like we struggle to find an ever smaller niche to call our own. I don’t really want to be master of one tiny corner, I want to be a welcome visitor all over town.


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    • NewShoot on September 24, 2009 at 11:25 am

    Good on you!
    I'm one too!
    (There's a twenty-year old tale of me coming round from wisdom tooth surgery still out of it on valium "Don't poke the wound", says the dental nurse. "It's OK," I reply " I'm a scientist!")
    Physics, astrophysics and now a slight detour into horticulture, but still "Oooh look!"
    Read in the last edition of the Plantsman that they've discovered a new sort of plant root – how cool is that!?

    • SomeBeans on September 24, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    Hi NewShoot, my detour into horticulture is mainly on the digging side (as the Inelegant Gardeners under-gardener) but I seemed to have picked up a lot of plant names through osmosis.

    My problem is that I find too many things interesting and can't stay with anything for long enough!

    • NewShoot on September 24, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Also used to work at Rutherford and had stint at EPSRC funding SRS and ESRF. If we cross correlate long enough we're going to find a conference we were both at!

    • SomeBeans on September 26, 2009 at 7:40 pm

    NewShoot. In compact form: BSc in Chemical Physics at Bristol 1988-91(some EXAFS at Daresbury), PhD at Durham '91-94 (work on CRISP and LOQ at Rutherford), postdoc etc at Cavendish (helped someone do SAXS on starch granules at the ESRF).

    The neutron work was at Durham on polymers.

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