When I was a freshman in college, I was going to be a doctor.
So were the other 2,000 students in my freshman evolutionary biology class – I think only about 30 of them actually became doctors.
I thought that medicine was the epitome of linking my two loves, science, and my desire to serve. I wanted to help people, and learn more about the fascinating organism that is the human body. I had been top of my class in high school in science, and I was the only child in my family to go to college.
However, my career in medicine ended with nervous breakdown three-quarters of the way through my sophomore organic chemistry course. I quickly changed my major to English to pursue my love of writing, leaving my hopes of curing cancer behind me.
However, that time I spent was not a waste of time. During that year and a half of sleepless nights, sleep-full days, and a strange fascination with extreme pregnancy documentaries, the one thing that my time in science-based academia taught me is how important it is to have a familiarity with science.
Pre-med requires students to run a gambit of science prerequisites. It starts with evolutionary biology and basic chemistry and continues to anatomy, organic chemistry, biochemistry and beyond. The classes are designed to not only prepare you for the coursework in medical school but also prepare you for the kind of critical thought and curiosity that is required to be successful in the medical field.
That has never seemed more important to me than in the time after college, where facts and feelings about facts have become blurred. When I hear climate-change deniers disregard science, it makes my blood boil. My training in science has taught me to take emotion out of a lot of decisions, and look at data analytically. It’s made me approach assumptions with caution, and consider an evidence-based approach from everything to my own aches and pains, to managing my employees, who may have trouble getting to work on time.
You don’t have to be a scientist, or even a doctor, to have a scientific aptitude. Really, I had a firm understanding of science when I was in the 8th grade – writing entrance exams to get into advanced biology in high school. My science teacher told me later that summer that I was the only person who had discussed the importance of the scientific method in my entrance essay.
And honestly – all you need in order to have an intelligent conversation about the sciences is to understand the scientific method and have a little bit of curiosity.
Curiosity is what forces a person to ask “what if” when they encounter an obstacle – to ask “why” when encountering a fact, and “listen” when they make a discovery. Whether it is a child testing the speed of gravity, or a manager asking what they can do to improve the productivity of their employee.
The scientific method is what compels us to funnel our curiosity into action, and enables us to understand what information is coming at us. It is skepticism with a process. I use it every single day, because science means starting every problem with “why” instead of “how.”
There’s not one day that goes by where I don’t consider the science of the world around me. I talk about string theory around the water cooler and regularly have to assure one of my employees that the world is not flat. It’s something that I deeply feared when I left my medical career behind. I didn’t want to lose the part of me that was curious.
Frankly, you don’t have to be a doctor, or even a scientist, to be curious. You just have to start with why.