Sketch me a Pinoy scientist
MANILA, Philippines - Dr Reinabelle Reyes, Reina to many, wanted to be an astronaut when she was a kid. Years later, she ended up being an astronomer.
Had she not gone to a science high school, she’d most probably either be a lawyer, an architect, or an entrepreneur – professions of people who were personally close to her.
She loved to read and think about science, but she was not quite aware that there were people doing it for a living. It took Pisay (Philippine Science High School) to introduce her to the idea that ordinary people can be scientists, and – more importantly – that it was possible for her to be one.
I also wanted to be a scientist very early in my life. When I was in Grade 2, I wanted to be a microbiologist. By Grade 6, I knew Math and Physics were for me.
I didn't go to a science high school, but I was lucky to be in a public elementary school that had a wonderful collection of science paraphernalia. I still remember those bottled fetuses, a scale model of the planetary system, and pictures and biographies of famous scientists.
I became familiar with what scientists did and how they lived – minus the hype. I knew that it was possible for me to be one also.
My scientific path was different from Reina’s. She went to Italy and later to the US for graduate school while I stayed behind in the Philippines to finish mine.
But there are two things common to our journey of becoming scientists. The first is that we were interested when we were still very young. It’s not really difficult to attract kids to the sciences. They are naturally curious about the universe.
The clincher however, is the second. Very early in life, we got exposed to who real scientists are – we learned that they are people of all shapes and sizes, who like us, enjoy doing science, and that it is possible to consider science as a career.
Of course, it also helped that we had been hard-headed and single-minded in our desire and ambition, but that is a different story.
The problem was perception. In Reina’s case and mine, the solution was to be aware; we have been informed correctly. But how many Filipino kids would have the same experience?
Most public schools cannot even provide a classroom for regular classes – what more for a room specifically dedicated to science? Science high schools do their part in attracting young minds, but we also note that the ones who yearn for entry are already those who have at least an idea of what a scientist is.
So is there a way to have a more faithful depiction of a scientist that will be easily accessible? One way is through media – social media.
Perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions being spread by the popular media is the portrayal of scientists as eccentric, nerdy, or obnoxious – think of that boring guy with huge glasses in a dirty oversized lab gown.
In other cases, they swing to another extreme and portray scientists as demigods with stratospheric achievements – think of that poor genius who has made a makeshift laboratory in his house, and who has finally gotten the government recognition he deserved for his latest inventions.
Sadly, to picture Pinoy scientists this way is to stereotype them. In the first case, the underlying message is that scientists do not have normal lives or lives worth aspiring for. In the latter case, scientists are at least shown in a positive light, but this stereotype can be just as damaging as the first. By placing the scientist in a completely different universe, with seemingly superhuman talents and unattainable achievements, readers – especially, young ones – come away thinking that they cannot be scientists themselves.
The truth is that scientists are as normal as the next person beside you.
It is in this light that the PinoyScientists tumblr site, moderated by Reina, was imagined. The site shows Filipinos of different backgrounds, social statuses, religious affiliations, and gender, doing all kinds of science.
The idea, according to Reina, “is to replace the outdated images that people have become accustomed to, with a more realistic sketch of a Pinoy scientist.”
“Take for example the Filipino geologist flying over Mt. Pinatubo, or that biologist studying molluscs in the Visayan Sea, or that theoretical physicist doing Muay Thai,” Reina added.
For the site, scientists are asked to submit two pictures, one at work and one at play, and to answer 4 simple questions: What do you do? Where do you work? What do the photos show? And Is there anything else you want to share?
The entries, happily, are a mixed bag. A new Pinoy scientist is featured everyday. The entries are also purely voluntary.
I personally like the contradiction in the submission of Francis Paraan, a theoretical physicist. In his pictures, you could see him goofing around in the National Institute of Physics in one photo, and working on his laptop while in Boracay, in another.
Who has not played at work or has suddenly had to work while on vacation? These things happen to a lot of working people, scientists or not.
The site also encourages contributions from scientists who are outside the walls of academia – the hidden scientists. These are individuals who were trained as scientists and are now working in other professions, while taking advantage of their training in science.
It nicely emphasizes that a science major in college can lead to a variety of career options. It also highlights the importance of scientifically-minded individuals in all fields, especially in government and other positions of leadership.
Scientists are real
The message of the site is clear. Pinoy scientists do exist. You can find us inside the laboratory, out in the field, or enjoying our careers beyond the academe – in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world. We have lives similar to yours.
We can be tall or short, dark or fair-skinned, bald or long-haired, male, female or a member of the third sex, devout Catholics or atheists, fathers, mothers, and lovers. We can be just as boring as exciting, adventurous or reserved. Name it. We are just like you.
Visit the site and see for yourself. Pinoy scientists are opening up their lives to show that it is possible for anyone – you, your kids, your curious young cousins – to be living and breathing scientists if they so wish. – Rappler.com
Nath Hermosa is a proud Pinoy Scientist. Get to know more about him here.