Two scientists walk into a bar….

… no seriously, that’s it. That’s what we did, wearing big dorky buttons, and then we sat around and talked to people over beers.

two scientists coaster

I wrangled a good friend of mine into participating in a science outreach event, “Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar…” last month through the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center here in San Diego. The event placed pairs of scientists in 25 bars around town for an evening to start conversations about science. As the executive director of the Science Center put it, “it’s about the conversations, not the answers.”

We were both unsure what to expect. Would people point out that as young females, we didn’t “look like scientists”? Would we get cornered by anti-evolution, anti-vaccine, or anti- something else people? Would people try to stump us? Or maybe worst of all, would no one talk to us?

None of these worst-case scenarios came to be. My friend and I had a number of fun and freewheeling conversations with people who were genuinely curious and interested. I think I was guilty of assuming that the general public is science-averse, and was happy to be corrected on that one.

Some favorite discussions:

I talked to a young Navy guy about my work as a cell biologist and was pleasantly surprised to see that he intuitively “got” my explanation of my work. He drew a parallel between his work in the Navy on electrical engineering and circuits and how signaling in a cell sounds similar to that. Totally on the money and he put his finger on an analogy that is very much en vogue in cell signaling papers these days.

I talked to a group of three about whether or not Jurassic Park could actually happen. We talked about molecular cloning and the recent sequencing of the woolly mammoth genome and the ancient Pandora virus as examples of things brought back to life, or at least observed, from the past. This brought us to broader questions of whether resurrecting a virus is an ethical decision.

I talked to a young woman about my experiences as a woman in science. I assured her that I have personally experienced very little sexism in my experiences as a female scientist, but that there are some structural issues with how the science career track is laid out that may make this career less attractive to women and lead to a “leaky pipeline” where many women opt to leave a career in academic science.

Overall, this program was a lot of fun and I look forward to participating again soon. Did we teach anyone anything? Probably not. But we did give people a better look at who scientists are and what motivates us.