This morning as I was leaving my daughter at daycare, I got asked by one of the other kids at kindergarten what I do for work. Trying to communicate what you do as a researcher to a five-year-old is a quite interesting task. Five-year-olds are smart – but not very knowledgeable, which leads to very interesting turns to the conversation. Here’s the entire dialogue, transcribed from memory and translated to English:
– What do you do for work?
– I work at the hospital, but I’m not a doctor.
– So you are a psychologist?
– No, I am something called a researcher. I try to understand why bacteria turn evil and make us sick.
– Does someone need to do that?
– Not really. But if we can understand why bugs go bad, we may be able to be sick for much shorter in the future. Or perhaps not get sick at all.
– Okay. Isn’t that hard?
– Yes it is.
– Okay. Bye!
A few things I learned from this conversation: 1) explaining your research to young kids really makes you think about how to present what you do. 2) Kids really question the usefulness of your work (“Does someone need to do that?”). This is actually quite cool, because you need to think about how useful your work really is, in terms that a five-year-old can understand. 3) Society is awesome! To some extent, my work is a “luxury job”, i.e. maybe someone does not need to do my work, but it something we can afford because we share responsibilities and work together as a society, improving (hopefully) the world for all of us. In some sense, nobody strictly needs to be building houses; everyone could just build their own cottage. But building houses improve the standards for everyone, setting time aside for curing diseases, making music, researching microbial interactions, gardening, coffee roasting… Society is awesome.