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Why scientists sometimes need to be a bit more Sith and a bit less Jedi

 

Darth Maul

Being a scientist can be very frustrating, even infuriating. It might well be because of the inequalities and unfairness of academic life (such as incompetent administrators, a lack of funding, poor career prospects, or academic bullying and harassment ). However, if you work in the conservation field, the frustrations will positively abound. In addition to the depressingly high likelihood that you will see your study habitat or species disappear before your eyes, there  are potentially the vexing roadblocks of your science being ignored  – or being actively distorted  – by policy makers, other scientists actively working against your efforts – either through their naivety or by deliberate design  – or being attacked by crazy whacktivists because they think your approach is the wrong one .

Stress is often high among scientists, especially those involved in conservation. However, I have found one of easiest solutions to relieve the stress is to write about your problems. Putting all the anger and frustrations down on paper (or on screen) can be sublimely cathartic. You can feel your blood pressure literally dropping points with every word you write.

But also, some of my favorite writing, and most successful papers, have been born out of anger and frustration (many of these are linked above). Like the Sith suggest, sometimes your anger can be used for power…!

Darth_Sidious

  “The hate is swelling in you now. Take your Jedi weapon. Use it !”  – Darth Sidious

However, whatever you do don’t type an angry rant and then immediately post it. Wait at least 24 hours, or even a week, and then come back to it and edit it…. Then edit it again. Send your draft article to a couple of friends who are sympathetic, but also sensible and logical. Are your arguments clear, logical and professional? Is this an issue that you think other scientists would understand? Is there anything in the article that might get me fired?

One important consideration is to put some ideas for possible solutions to the problem. Just reading a list of woes can be very depressing and ultimately may make both you and your readers feel more stressed and hopeless. Whereas, some suggestions for possibly fixes to the problem may inspire you readers to adopt, or advocate for, these solutions. Or it might encourage them to come up with a set of solutions that might work even better.

Scientists are encouraged to be dispassionate and unemotional, much like the Jedi are. However, change rarely happens when people are dispassionate and sit on the sidelines. As Edmund Burke famously said:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Or even more famously Professor Dumbledore advised:

Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Sometimes channeling your frustration in a positive and professional way – such as advocating for change – can lead to an outcome that is both real and positive. So sometimes it good for a scientist to get their Sith on every now and again.


Dr. Chris Parsons has been involved in whale and dolphin research for over two decades and has been involved in projects on every continent. Dr. Parsons is an Associate Professor at George Mason University as well as the undergraduate coordinator for their environmental science program. He’s a member of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission (IWC), has been involved in organizing four of the International Marine Conservation Congresses (IMCC) (the world’s largest academic marine conservation conference) and two of the International Congresses for Conservation Biology. He was a Governor of the Society for Conservation Biology for nearly a decade and is currently on the Board of Directors of the American Cetacean Society and the Society for Marine Mammalogy. In addition, Dr. Parsons has published over 120 scientific papers and book chapters and has written a textbook on marine mammal biology & conservation.


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