The Science Projects
Reading Watson’s personal account of the discovery of the double helix led me to reflect on my own journey with the sciences.
I’ve come to the conclusion that the most I’ve ever loved science was when I was a kid. It all started when I was around seven with these animal fact files, small informational pamphlets that focused on a specific species and briefly presented various facts and quirks about their lifestyles and behavior. My best friend at the time, Caitlin, and I would compete, seeing who would get the most interesting ones (she invariably won, as her parents were able to order her more of the expansion pages). Together we had hundreds. I remember ravenously reading each and every page, focusing especially on the pictures of the baby animals and where they could be found in the wild. My personal favorites were the otters and sloths. I’m not too sure why. They probably had the cutest offspring.
Anyway, my interest spilled over into this children’s science encyclopedia I was given some years later. It generally covered topics from geology to astronomy to anatomy. A curious boy, I was, obviously, inquisitive about the reproductive systems of humans, making furtive glances towards the door, wary of the possibility of mother entering the room as I peeked at the figures. What I most remember about this book, though, was that I made it my goal to copy down every single definition I didn’t know into my very own science notebook. I made it about three sections in before I realized I was way over my head and gave up (this book really was massive, guys). My interest perhaps peaked when I did a “science project” (more like a presentation) in the fourth grade about koalas. After that, I was convinced I was going to be some sort of wildlife conservationist and live in the jungle or a zookeeper and play with the wild animals all day long.
The dream started to wane. Starting in fifth grade, standardized science projects were mandatory for everyone. I soon discovered that my brain just doesn’t “click” with the scientific method. My investigative questions were, to put it bluntly, inane, my imagination taking me down ridiculous paths of thought. My project that year was a study of freezing temperature of water and its color. Basically, I put food coloring into tap water and put the ice trays in the freezer. Big surprise: it didn’t matter whatsoever. Sixth through eighth grades were really rough, though. By then I attended a magnet school across town with some of the smartest kids my age and whose parents were often scientists themselves. My stupid projects were pathetic in comparison (eg. Seed germination vs. type of juice I’d watered it with at home against someone other kid’s insulin experiment they’d been able to pull off in their parent’s lab). When high school started and they were optional it was a refreshing change of pace. My previous love for science only continued to fall, though, as my classes became more math-oriented, more tedious, and though I was capable, I was thoroughly and indescribably bored (especially physics, oh my god, physics).
It’s funny, then, that I’m a biology major. The introductory science courses here are brutal and I don’t think my interest has ever been lower. Rather than excite me, they sap me of all my energy, draining me with invasive tendrils that grow from the glossy text and into my brain. I’m hopeful that one day, once I’m past the barrage of mandated information and rote memorizations, my passion will return. Glimmers of it briefly evanesce during particularly interesting lectures and my private readings. On a trip to the aquariums in Chattanooga last year I was captivated. It’s there, deep down.
We’ll see. I don’t want to go into a profession and end up hating life, regretting that I didn’t end up doing something else.
PS. More sloths.