When many people think of scientists, images such as that of Einstein come to mind. Einstein and other scientists in his league asked important questions regarding the nature of reality in order to discover its underlying principles. However, individuals like Einstein are the exception rather than the rule with regards to what most scientist do.
The majority of scientists are involved in the application of science to answer very specific and practical questions. Is this drug safe? Is this water sample polluted? What illness does this patient have? Did this gun fire this bullet? These are all questions that are not likely to get you a Nobel Prize anytime soon, but their answer is of vital importance to our society. In fact, many scientists are involved in professions that do not necessarily even require the performance of experiments on a regular basis or at all. Additionally, science has become such a fiendishly complicated enterprise that many individuals that do not intend to become hard core scientists nevertheless need to study and train for many years even up to the Ph.D. or postdoctoral level to acquire an acceptable degree of mastery in the subject. This post is about these other scientists.
Doctors: Although all doctors are trained to be scientists, not all perform research. From general practitioners to specialists, many doctors set up or join private practices and dedicate themselves exclusively to servicing their patients, thus fulfilling an important function in society.
Quality Control Scientists: The job of quality control scientists is to test each batch of a manufactured product to make sure it conforms to established parameters. In quality control, the procedures used to test new batches of products must the performed in the same way, day after day, month after month, and year after year. Data and procedures have to be meticulously recorded. Equipment and assays have to be fine-tuned and calibrated. The lives of people and millions of dollars in company resources depend on quality control scientist doing their job right.
Forensic scientists apply the methods of science to analyze physical and chemical evidence to solve crimes. From fingerprinting, entomology, and botany, to toxicology, pathology, and DNA analysis, many disciplines of science converge to help in fighting crime and evaluating the culpability of suspects.
Scientific Reviewers: Every year there are billions of dollars in public and private funds allocated for research, and there are thousands of research proposals that request these funds. How do funding agencies decide which proposals to fund? Here is where a type of scientist known as a scientific reviewer comes in. Scientific reviewers organize and conduct meetings with scientists, who are experts in their field, to review and score grant proposals. These scientists play an invaluable role in the process of allocating millions of dollars in public and private funds for research.
Patent Attorneys: Individuals and corporations want to protect their discoveries by writing patent applications to the government or defend their patents in court when they have been infringed. Patent attorneys are involved in the process of writing patents and in disputes over patent rights. Some scientists, after obtaining their degree in science, choose to pursue a law degree to become patent attorneys. The scientific background allows them to understand the complexity and nuances of the subject matter they encounter, and to argue cases to juries and judges.
Patent Examiners: Hundreds of thousands of claims are made every year to the government requesting that new inventions and procedures be protected by the awarding of a patent. The type of protection afforded by a patent is vital for the viability of many industries. But how is the government to know which patent request should be approved? This is the job of patent examiners. Patent examiners are scientists who search the available scientific literature and related databases to evaluate which claims should receive patent protection.
Regulatory Scientists: The process by which scientific discoveries result in practical applications involves following many rules at the municipal, state, and federal levels and requires a lot of oversight by regulatory agencies. There are tens of thousands of regulatory scientists involved in making sure that scientific products such as drugs or medical devices are effective and that they are produced in a safe manner.
Science Writers: Another important and versatile scientific activity is science writing. There are scientists who write the technical specifications of products made by companies. Others are involved in writing up the presentation of the company’s products to consumers. Some scientists write applications for the approval of products by regulatory agencies, while other scientists edit articles to be published in science journals. Still other scientists are involved with writing grants or writing for publications or broadcast outlets that inform the public about the latest scientific discoveries or controversies.
Teachers: As science becomes more complex, teachers are obtaining advanced degrees or training in science, and scientists are obtaining teaching degrees to be teachers. In an age where science is having incremental impacts in our lives with each passing year, it is important to teach new generations about the ways of science.
I could go on, but the foregoing gives you an idea regarding the breadth of the applications of science in our society and the diversity of its practitioners many of whom do not necessarily engage in the classical image of the scientist asking big questions, making Earth-shattering discoveries, and winning the Nobel Prize. Not everyone is an Einstein, and that’s OK.
The photograph of Albert Einstein by Orren Jack Turner obtained from the Library of Congress is in the public domain because it was published in the United States between 1923 and 1963 and the copyright was not renewed.