The Sassy Scientist – Gotta Bake ‘Em All

The Sassy Scientist – Gotta Bake ‘Em All

Is it summer already? Have we come to the horrendous deadline period before the holidays? I know it’s impossible, but when you close your eyes, do you imagine the sea or the mountains? (Choose your fighter: Lapras or Machamp.) Luckily, we have a question that will give you a break from all this and act as a refreshment for that hot weather. I guess Emi is preparing for the holidays with the family, and she asks:

How do I explain my research topic to my grandma?

Dear Emi,

Oh, I like this. It’s like an outreach challenge request. Somehow reminds me of this short video from ANU Science (Australian National University). I feel like before telling you how, first, I have to try it with my grandma and see if it works. 

Image from SpongeBob SquarePants.

Okay, so basically it was tough. I have done some research on how to, and I tried to find some examples. But I realised that my grandma didn’t even consider my job as a job… It was the moment when something hard struck my face. “So when are you really finishing school? Aren’t you tired of studying?”… Oh Grandma, if only you knew. Dreaming of quitting academia, PhD and postdoc, is my life’s work. So you see where my challenge started, and it started with the touch of an existential crisis. Luckily, I got over this part quickly. But then we stepped into the field of active volcanoes. I mean how can you even dare to explain your research after such a conversation? I had to step back, regroup my thoughts, and finally decided to start a bit easier by trying this first with my parents.

You need to start with the bigger picture, very broad. Maybe geosciences as a whole. Find a point that is interesting for them. Once you’ve done that, you need to find a connection so you can break it down. The next step is my favourite: Analogies and Examples. Now it’s time to have a home run. No, I’m not talking about literally running around the house with your grandma, although maybe she is an athlete of her age. It’s a baseball reference, but I’ll give it to the Americans, it’s catchy. You need to tell her why your research matters and what the benefits could be. But you need to close this with a sentimental message by keeping it personal like why you do what you do. Did you do that? Okay, great, now ask her if she has any questions. Like in every presentation you have to close with the questions part. Don’t worry, this time no one is going to say “It is not a question but more of a comment”, or I don’t know maybe your grandma is secretly an academic and she will come back with that. Anyway, here is a random example of course, I’m not going to give an example based on my research topic. That would reveal my secret identity, you fool!

“Grandma, I’m studying the Earth and how it changes over time. You know how Earth has mountains, rivers, and oceans? I’m looking at how these features are formed and how they change. It’s kind of like baking a cake. When you mix different ingredients and put the cake in the oven, it changes shape and texture as it bakes. The Earth changes too, but instead of heat and ingredients, it’s things like heat, water, wind, and earthquakes that cause the changes..”

If this does not work, try to bake your research with your grandma. Like this one

Yours truly,
The Sassy Scientist

P.S. Yes, my backup plan is to quit and open a bakery like every academic. I thought that was in the contract when you signed to be in academia.

P.P.S. Moments later my parents forgot what I’m doing. We would have failed the test in that video. Oh well. I should ask them how they manage to do this because sometimes I would like to get this research amnesia. It might be the first step in my journey as a baker.


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I am currently employed at a first tier research institute where I am continuously working with the greatest minds to further our understanding of the solid Earth system. Whether it is mantle or lithosphere structure and dynamics, solid Earth rheology parameters, earthquake processes, integrating observations with model predictions or inversions: you have read a paper of mine. Even if you are working on a topic I haven’t mentioned here, I still know everything about it. Do you have any problems in your research career? I have already experienced them. Do you struggle with your work-life balance? Been there, done that. Nowadays, I have only one hobby: helping you out by answering the most poignant questions in geodynamics, research and life. I am waiting for you right here. Get inspired.

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