“You’re a biologist…”

I’ve learned to dread questions starting with that statement, especially from my mother. Apparently getting my bachelor’s degree in genetics and evolution makes me the Leading Expert on anything having to do with biology. For example, over the last couple of days I have fielded questions on:

  • The best way to keep plants from drying up after they’ve been cut
  • If deer sleep standing up
  • The differences between various types of kidney surgery

I’m not sure which type of questions exasperate me more: Medical Questions or Extraordinarily Specific Questions About One Particular Species that Only a Researcher Who Has Studied That Species Would Know. I think it’s partly annoying because I’d love to answer questions about things I actually know. Whenever my parents do ask me questions about genetics, I get all giddy and love explaining it to them. But biologist does not equal doctor. And once I actually am Dr. McCreight, I think this will get even worse.

I just need to train my mom to say “You’re a geneticist” before her questions. That way she’ll be able to see how silly it is asking me about mating habits in ducks.

To all my engineering and computer science friends – I apologize every time I’ve come to you asking you stupid questions about Microsoft Word or my phone. …Though I’ll probably keep doing it. Consider this a preemptive apology.


  1. CBC says

    It’s even worse when you’re in law school and answering those sorts of obscure, specialized questions could (worst case scenario) ruin your hope of practicing law. “Hey, you’re in law school, can you write me up a liability waiver so people I videotape walking down the street can’t sue me?”

  2. Travis says

    Heh heh. I get the “hey you know computers, can you fix this?” crap, because I am a programmer. You are not the only one guilty of this, not nearly. But I can relate to people asking you ridiculous questions. I feel your pain. :/

  3. says

    My degree is in psych, so I get this all the time, too. “Hey, you’re a psychologist….”, then ask me all kinds of weird shit. I always try to do my best to answer, but damn!

  4. says

    Oh, how often I get this! For physics, though. Not biology. Just because I work at Fermilab does not mean that I am the person to turn to about General Relativity!

  5. NotThatGreg says

    Are there any questions that are on-topic, but recur so often you get tired of them? I met a an entomologist some years ago, and asked her what the strange creature I had found in my basement was. After I described it she said “Common house centipede”. I said, “No, this is really strange, it’s like from another planet, almost made of goo, and its legs sort of merge into these flat sides it has, and if you squash it there’s almost nothing there”. “Common. House. Centipede”. Apparently the CHC is very often mistaken for something ‘really strange’, and she got this a fair bit. And I’ve seen more of them since, so I guess its reasonably common after all…The best answer to the ‘help me with my computer’ is that flowchart on xkcd, http://xkcd.com/627/ .. perhaps there are similar things in other fields…

  6. Roki_B says

    As a nurse and a computer nerd, I get the best of both worlds.It is astounding the lack of discretion my family has when it comes to asking questions.I know things about my mom I neither asked to know, nor ever wanted to. Or my dad. Or my friends. At least I’m already happily desensitized to that type of thing. I can only imagine that doctors get it even worse. Poor bastards.

  7. Gus Snarp says

    But your engineering and comp sci friends secretly love it when you ask them about your computer problems.

  8. mcbender says

    Excellent point, Jen. I’m sure I’ve made the same mistake on many occasions without my knowledge, and if I have I regret it (I don’t think I’ve done so in your case, but I don’t know).That said, I experience the same thing, all the time – laypeople ask me what I’m studying and there’s no right answer. If I tell them “computer engineering” they almost always assume I mean software, and if they don’t, they start asking me for advice on which computers they should buy (as if being in the field automatically means I’m keeping track of every product)… if I say “VLSI circuit design” it just comes across as technobabble…

  9. Eliza Munson says

    One of my friends got his degree in marine biology and though it wasn’t all that often that we had marine biology questions at some point we discovered that when he didn’t know the answer to a question he would just make something up and try to pass it off with amusing posturing. At that point we started asking him questions all the time for the express purpose of getting him to make stuff up.The fun part was he did know an awful lot so it took some ingenuity to throw something out he was totally ignorant of. It wasn’t hard to spot when he started making stuff up, his presentation was more theatrical and totally wonderful.We called him the Professor for what he professed to know.

  10. Ulf Schyldt says

    Yeah, I guess you could try to avoid answering by stating a more narrow field of expertice. I’ve spent the twenty odd years since I actually went to collage learning a lot of odd things about a lot of different subjects and find that now I can actually answer about 75-80 percent of the questions I get asked by colleagues… :-)

  11. says

    “You’re a Computer Scientist, can you tell me how to print this Word document/install this obscure printer driver/get this game to run?”I wonder what kind of questions social sciences or philosophy majors get.

  12. A-M says

    I have a degree in French, German and Dutch, yet people ask me, ‘how do you say …. in Spanish?’ I don’t think it would matter which combination of languages I was fluent in, I’d get asked how to give directions in Swahili.

  13. says

    I love being a sociologist. Nobody wants to ask us ANYTHING.. because, you know.. we’ll answer.At length.As one of my soc profs put it ‘you become that person no one will talk to at barbecues.’

  14. Kristopher W Ramsey says

    I’m tech support for government. I get those types of questions all, ALL, day long. But not only that! Apparently I’m supposed to know all the prices for ordering any type of somewhat vaguely technical equipment, and have that information at my fingertips so it can be provided as soon as the client calls.Yeah, the last thing I want to be doing when I’m out of work is fixing anyone’s computer, especially my own. That’s why I’ve gone Mac.

  15. Dae says

    Hah, I get this all the bloody time. @.@ I feel your pain. (And strictly speaking, I’m not even a biologist! I’m a bioengineer!)

  16. hkdharmon says

    I teach jujitsu and I get “So, are ninja’s real?”WTF do I know about ninjas?

  17. says

    As I said on twitter, I have the same problem. The medical questions are the most common— Little cousin has a seizure–> “What do you know about epilepsy?” Grandma has severe migraine attack that puts her in bed for weeks–> “Can X cause migraines?” Roommate’s best friend thinks she is pregnant–> “If X,Y, and Z, do you think she’s pregnant?”Honestly though, aside from an actual doctor, I actually usually AM the most qualified person easily accessible for most of my family and some of my friends to ask such questions of. And honestly , I kind of encourage it, because if possible, I try to answer. Because at the very least, I know how to get online and find credible sources to answer the question. Sure, I would vastly prefer that people learn to do this themselves, but me spending a few minutes with google is definitely better than people getting their medical advice from some random message board.The questions do get absurd and annoying, but when I can, I try to see them as opportunities to share what I do know with people. “Actually, I don’t know the answer to that, but we can find it!” or “That’s really not my area…. you would need something more like an x-ologist to answer that one.” or “I don’t know the answer to that specific question about the booster shot your two year old had last week, but let’s talk about how vaccines work in general so that you have a better understanding of what is going on”But then, maybe I just enjoy being a know-it-all too much.

  18. Citizensmith says

    You’ve got a degree in genetics and evolution, so what genetic advantage is there to asking stupid questions that allowed it to survive long enough to evolve into asking stupid questions on the internet?

  19. matt says

    Yeah. Same in any profession. You’re a mechanic. You’re a plumber. You’re an insurance agent.What’s even worse is a question starting with “You’re a man . . .” or “You’re a woman . . .”

  20. yaoi_myantidrug says

    It gets really annoying when their questions reveal how ignorant people can be. I worked as a cashier in a pharmacy, and all day I heard, “what drugs am I getting?”-I read the 10 names off the paper”what are they for?”me:…..

  21. Haley says

    philosophy majors don’t get asked questions. Except occasionally we jokingly get asked what the meaning of life is, which is a pet peeve of mine.

  22. WhatPaleBlueDot says

    I think the appropriate response is “I don’t know, let’s find out.”And then google it. :p

  23. NotThatGreg says

    For sure. A while ago I was helping a guy build something on linux, because he didn’t know linux, and I did; but I was unfamiliar with what he was trying to build. And he was really upset that everything didn’t just pop up and tell him what to do. And most of what I did was show him how easy it was to find answers on the net. At one point he complained, “there’s this utility here that gets used, and I have absolutely no idea what it does…” like that was going to be an impassable roadblock. And I said, honestly, “well, Martin, I have absolutely no idea what it does either…” and googled it, and we moved on. Still took a few more times before he would figure that out for himself though.

  24. Bethebunny says

    Easy “fix” to all Microsoft Word problems:Use OpenOffice (http://www.openoffice.org/). It’s pretty much the same interface, but the response you receive to questions from CSci nerds will contain 90% less contempt, guaranteed.

  25. atf says

    as a pure math grad student, there are two (from experiences) things people will say to me:1. so, what exactly do you do?2. i used to be good at math, until grade xwhere x is the grade involving fractions or calculus. i hate number two. most adults i know don’t even know how to add fractions. number one’s answer is usually very boring to people who have no idea about what i’m talking.

  26. says

    I work as a CSR for an internet company that deals in scientific and medical equipment… but we don’t actually sell anything ourselves, we’re more like an AutoTrader for this type of equipment.. I get people phoning all the time with questions like “Can I do a flurocarbon analysis using a triple quadrupole UV/VIS spectrometer?” and I usually want to just say ‘Well, try it and let me know how it turns out.’ because in honesty, I wouldn’t know what to do with a mass spec if my life depended on it.

  27. Nathanlee2 says

    So true, for the same reason there is less contempt if you use firefox instead of internet explorer. It assumes the problem is less likely on the level of “is the computer plugged in”.

  28. dartigen says

    As an IT student, everyone seems to assume I’m the free technical support (hah, not anymore! $10 per hour thanks). They also like to assume that I like guessing error messages and that I know exactly what the problem is, when it’s more likely that there are 15 problems and one of them is that the computer in question is 8 years old without a single upgrade or driver update. Everyone also likes to assume that I know how to fix internet problems that are the ISP’s issue. Apparently ‘your internet doesn’t work because your bill is overdue’ isn’t technical-sounding enough. I do try to explain things to people, but more often than not I get the ‘I don’t want the technical gibberish/I’m not good with computers’ answer. It infuriates me – what, you think I’ve always been good with computers? Nobody is born being a nerd – you learn it as you go. And computers are not hard to learn – programming is, but not basic things like ‘how does a network work’ and ‘what hardware parts go in a case and what do they do’. (Alright, so you can get ridiculously technical about hardware too, but you don’t *need* to generally.)I also hate all the stores that like to take advantage of most people’s lack of technical knowledge, and I wonder how they can condone that. It’s not that person’s fault they don’t know. You could help them by lettings them know. (Ah, but then HP et al would make no money from their crappy, bloat-filled prebuilt desktops.) It’s especially mean when people do it to the elderly – it’s not their fault that they were born in an era when these things only existed in government offices or the military, and it’s a lot harder for them to learn now that they’re set in their ways.With that being said, I’m bringing in some money from a small business doing upgrades and rebuilds. All you have to do is supply the parts and software or money for, and $50 labour. (I don’t charge for advice or consultation for hardware.) The neighbourhood I am in is saturated with people who still run Windows 98 and wouldn’t know a motherboard from a power supply. I’m raking in an extra $200-$300 a week doing rebuilds and upgrades for little old ladies who don’t understand why their ISP won’t supply them with internet anymore (many here in Australia will refuse you if you run anything older than Windows XP) and need it for their bills or to talk to the kids.

  29. says

    You are a geneticist. Would you happen to know how much genes explain the cause of boobquakes around the world? If not, would you be interested in running more boobquake experiments to gather enough data for statistical hypothesis testing?

  30. says

    I am a computer geek and a paramedic. I get asked medical stuff and computer stuff sometimes in the same conversation LMAO.I feel for ya Jen but I love ya anyways

  31. says

    The internet is a favorable environment for askers of stupid questions, compared to the real world, because of the impossibility of strangling.

  32. Steve Caldwell says

    Many years ago, I had a job as a lab tech in a plant physiology lab (we were researching phytochrome:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P…One of our neighbors knew I worked with plants at work and he asked me if I knew how he could grow more potent weed.I apologized when I told him that I couldn’t help him. My work with living plants involved growing 4-5 day oat or pea seedlings which I would harvest, freeze, and eventually use for phytochrome extraction and analysis. I knew nothing about what one needed to do to boost THC content in weed.

  33. WhatPaleBlueDot says

    It’s the appropriate response to anyone, especial from people who want to know things. I don’t know much about duck procreation (except the obvious cloaca issue and rape and gay sex and I think even necrophilia?). Maybe we should all google it together.

  34. hippiefemme says

    I was once asked to give an opinion on the “sociological perspective” of a certain issue. I started to explain that not all sociologists would agree and that it would depend on the theoretical background of the sociologist. That’s when I realized they were spacing out. I don’t think I’ve gotten a question like that since.

  35. hippiefemme says

    Because I’m from such a small town with so few degree holders (in my state, only 17% of adults 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher), most of my questions start with “Hey, you’re a college kid…” and they go downhill from there. My degree is in sociology; my grandmother asked me to teach her how to use her DVD player and fix her TV. I could do the DVD player part, so that probably just eggs them on.I think my biggest pet peeve, however, is when people assume that sociology and psychology are “pretty much the same thing.” I’ll get a list of X, Y, and Z problems and calmly explain that it’s a personal problem and not a social issue, so I don’t know how to comment on it…right before explaining the difference between the two and why I can only comment on one.

  36. says

    I used to mostly get asked if I want to be president someday.Now when I tell people my major is International Relations they blink once and go, “Oh, that’s cool!”

  37. says

    I’m a visual effects guy who is part of a team that uses computers to model on, animate with and output the final bits to. I’ve been doing this for twenty years and only use a pencil when I’m sketching out stuff for fun.My Mom, her friends and even some of my friends from school still ask me if I draw all those characters, or want me to read their screenplay, or listen to a pitch for a television show.Because, you know, that’s all connected.

  38. says

    I also enjoy the people who think that sociologist and social worker are the same thing.Believe it or not, they’re out there.

  39. says

    I’m assuming you mean ‘you’ in the specific sense (as in, specifically regarding Jen), not in the general sense (as in what can also be indicated with the pronoun ‘one’)? Of course, I’ve been short of sleep, and so this comment/question is phrased really oddly and is quite pointless…

  40. says

    I seem to be seen by various friends and relatives as the person to ask about anything even vaguely technical or scientific, and I agree with you. It’s positive and rewarding to: – Let them know that you don’t know, – Help them learn how to find out, or at least help them find out this one time, – Help give them some basic information in a relevant area so they don’t end up with as many misconceptions (and frankly really weird questions) in future.

  41. nobody says

    See, that’s why you should have gone for an interdisciplinary degree. Then you could say “jee, sorry, I can’t answer your computer question. I’m just an artist!” “No, sorry, I can’t answer your question about paint; I’m a programmer!”

  42. Tortus says

    Oh wow, I get these all the time but I’m a 4th year Conservation Biology student. It started with one of my friends asking honest “Hey, you’re a biologist, where do leaves go after they fall off a tree?” questions but one day he made the mistake of asking “… What would happen if you took out all your teeth?”. To which I replied “…You’d have no teeth…”.From then on it became a joke for all my friends to ask me really really stupid questions and starting it with “You’re a biologist…” and no matter how stupid I try to answer them!

  43. jrs says

    You’re a geneticist, how come if genes are like a computer program people don’t believe in a programmer? DUN DUN DUN=P

  44. says

    How about “*If* you’re really a biologist then me can tell me why the Southern rock lobster is called Jasus edwardsii”. The woman who asked this was definitely experiencing anti-intelligent-male emotional issues due to her personal life at the time.The questions I get all the time here in NZ when I mention I (used to) work on spiders are always about the dreaded white-tail spider which is hyped by the media as super dangerous, there are several urban myths about it that I hear on a regular basis. I think my neighbour actually moved house after finding a big one in her bedroom.

  45. says

    Haha, it WILL get worse when you get your Ph.D. because you won’t just be a biologist, you’ll be a “scientist” and any question about science is fair game. (First-hand experience) So be prepared to make shit up, I mean look dumbfounded by questions about black holes in particle accelerators, string theory, artificial intelligence, and lots of topics you have no clue about.

  46. Ivo says

    What gets me is that, since I’m a researcher in pure mathematics, I should be the one dividing up the bill at the restaurant.Well, not exactly true. What pisses me off is that I’m really not good at it: I’m pretty slow at at basic arithmetic, and I’ve gotten worse lately — I’m sure I was better at it in primary school, when that still felt like a interesting and challenging activity. And I hate it when my commensals, upon seeing my hesitation and miscalculations, start joking about my weak performance for a mathematician… I often end up shamefully and half-heartedly stammering about how you don’t need much arithmetics to do geometry and topology, and that most abstract algebraic operations are with symbols anyway, until someone changes the topic.

  47. says

    I’m a computer science person so maybe I’m biased, but in my experience we computer science people are better at things like MS Word because we just try harder. The real secret to knowing how to do stuff is to mess around with a bunch of stuff until it works. Because that’s basically what programming is.

  48. Jed Carty says

    I have a hard time not yelling at people when I tell them I a graduate student in electrical engineering and they say that maybe I could help them rewire their house.

  49. Chrissy says

    I’m into molecular and microbiology, and people love to ask me questions about wildlife and zoo animals. I know absolutely nothing about elephants. Except that they’re pregnant for two years.

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