Ask Me One More Time… I Dare You.

Scientific research is fueled by a desire to answer questions – What is the molecular basis of disease?  Can we use individual DNA sequences to personalize medical treatments?  Does the world really need another ‘male enhancement drug’? But as we find out over time, not all questions are created equally…

While, as scientists, we generally take great pride in answering questions as a means of furthering our understanding of the natural world, certain keywords may trigger a primal response brought out only after years of graduate school suffering.  For the sake of well-intentioned family and friends, let’s help identify these landmines so they can avoid any future explosions…

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What is the most annoying question to be asked?

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Have any other questions you’d prefer never to hear again?

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11 comments so far. Join The Discussion

  1. NMF

    wrote on January 10, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Whenever someone asks me when I'm going to graduate, or how much longer I have before I'm done I explain that you don't ask a PhD student that question- it's like asking a woman how old she is.

    I feel like a whole other thread could be questions I don't want to hear during a presentation (along the lines of seminar bingo). Questions like:
    "What's your scale bar?" (Congrats, the presenter missed a scale bar, it's probably safe to assume its the same scale as the other images. Or, use your head- is it a cell? A molecule? How big would it be?)
    "What are the units on that graph?" (Because again, the presenter missed the units and you need to spend time pointing that out to everyone. Or maybe we need to explain what arbitrary fluorescence units are again?)
    "Have you considered [my pet technique]?" (Well yes, yes I did, but it would be so useless in my research as to embarrass you who thinks it solves all problems… now how do I answer this nicely?)
    "How would you commercialize this?" (Short answer: I wouldn't. Long answer: it's science- knowledge for the sake of knowing. Not everything we do is going to be a product. But thanks for the generic question that doesn't contribute anything.)

  2. mark

    wrote on January 10, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    What disease are you curing?

  3. andrea

    wrote on January 10, 2011 at 1:35 pm

    You're still here? (I thought you would have graduated by now)

  4. Tim

    wrote on January 10, 2011 at 2:04 pm

    "Concern for making life better for ordinary human beings must be the chief object of science never forget this when you are pondering over your diagrams and equation."

    Anyone care to guess who said this?

    Being comfortable with answering these types of questions is what keeps layman (and taxpayers for that matter) interested in continuing to fund basic scientific research.

    Seems like friends and family are just trying to show some interest in your work. Try to help them understand your work, and you are likely to improve your own ability to write it up in your next grant proposal.

  5. [email protected]

    wrote on January 10, 2011 at 6:46 pm

    Einstein (thanks Google…) was a wise man. Having to explain projects repeatedly can get frustrating and requires patience – but we can't overlook the possibility that the problem is that we're not doing a good job of explaining…

  6. Natalie

    wrote on January 10, 2011 at 4:09 pm

    "Have you finished writing your thesis yet?"
    To which the answer is always "F**k off"

  7. Lisa

    wrote on January 16, 2011 at 10:35 am

    I guess I'm not bothered by these questions like, I guess, everyone else seems to be. Most of the people who ask these types of questions don't have much background in my field. They can't know what the hot topics are. So they do the best they can to try to connect with me in an area of interest to me. Especially when it's a family member asking the question, I think of these questions as translating to "I care about how you are doing."

  8. Lisa

    wrote on January 16, 2011 at 10:35 am

    Regarding the questions asked during presentations, the first two I would say are fair game. The purpose of making a presentation is to communicate the findings. If the graph is confusing, communication did not happen. The reason for that is not always that the listener is a dummy. It is possible that the graph might not be 100% clear. And the person might not be asking in order to embarrass the speaker. He or she might genuinely be interested in fully grasping the importance of what the speaker is trying to say. (He or she might also not have sufficiently refined social skills to realize the way the question was asked might tend to embarrass the speaker.)

    The second two questions tend to be variants of "Look at how smart *I* am!!" So I agree, they're not constructive. But they're sure to come up. Does anyone have suggestions on constructive responses?

  9. katiesci

    wrote on March 18, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    So you’re going to cure cancer?

    So you do cancer research?

    No and no, I’m not even near the cancer field!

  10. aud

    wrote on March 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    So what's the application? (Uh, this is "basic" science, as opposed to "applied"….)

  11. Hilton Kenji Takahashi

    wrote on April 4, 2011 at 11:43 am

    "When you are really going to look for a real job?"

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