Science and Research Writer: Your Job Must Be Really Hard
Sometimes – okay, who am I kidding… most of the time – my job is a humbling experience. For example, as someone who majored in history, it’s difficult for me understand how arrays of carbon nanotubes, grown in a laboratory at the Arkansas Research and Technology Park, are used to fabricate a tool that can detect one’s heart rate or respiratory rate. (In this case, the sensor transmits information to a receiver that communicates with a computer or cell phone, so that a health-care provider or patient herself – or an athlete, for that matter – can continuously monitor these readings.) After hours of brain pain and a million questions, I figure it out, but it doesn’t come easy.
And then the next day, it’s something completely different – a law professor’s study of how the U.S. Supreme Court and the 8th of Amendment fail to provide clear direction to lower courts on how to go about sentencing juvenile murder accomplices. (Until recently, the Court treated accomplices no differently than the actual murderer.) The juggling, this moving from one topic to another – always dramatically different… I simultaneously love and loathe it.
The fear and intellectual insecurity almost always manifest themselves, in one form or another, in the researcher’s office, where I invariably find a wall or two of books. Or three. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat on this side of the desk and felt small, so woefully inadequate and unqualified to fulfill the essential task of my job – to simply to carry out an intelligent conversation about this person’s research – and knowing, like an imposter, that I do not have a clue what this person is talking about. And I think, wow!, do I have or would I ever have had the intelligence, the fortitude and the patience to have gone so deep into a single problem – or in my case, an event or movement, because I thought eventually I would get a PhD in history – that I could write a dissertation and maybe build an entire career on it?
No. The answer is no. I got honest about that years ago.
So I was shocked recently when I heard the words come out of accounting professor Cory Cassell’s mouth. There I was, on this side of his desk, furtively glancing at the wall of books, wondering how many I had not read, gearing up for a productive talk about earnings forecasts of retiring CEOs, when he leaned back in his chair and looked me in the eye and said, with utter sincerity, “Your job must be really hard!” I smiled incredulously. He was totally serious. “Thanks,” I said. “I appreciate you saying that. I’ve always thought the same about you.”