David Ng is asking if biologists have physics envy, which is both a common and a peculiar question (short answer: no, physicists should have biology envy). Then he follows up with a few brief questions to determine if scientists are actually pining away, wishing they’d gone into some different field … and here are my answers.
1. What’s your current scientific specialty?
2. Were you originally pursuing a different academic course? If so, what was it?
I started my undergraduate career with a general interest in marine biology, but quickly focused on neurobiology and development as more interesting problems (but not more interesting environments or organisms!) I went into graduate school thinking neuroscience was the bee’s knees, but again shifted focus to more development — starting from a developmental perspective was the practical way to approach the complexity of the nervous system. Now I also think it is the practical way to approach the complexity of metazoan evolution. Actually, I’m with D’Arcy Thompson that “everything is the way it is because it got that way” and that development is the lens we should use to examine everything. The process is all.
3. Do you happen to wish you were involved in another scientific field? If so, what one?
Yes, all of them.
Well, all of the biological disciplines, anyway. The problem is that I tend to think of mathematics, physics, and chemistry as subsets of biology, so they all tend to get sucked into my domain of desired knowledge.
On the other hand, maybe my answer should be “no.” My interests are my interests, and I’m currently free to pursue them exactly as I will, so I can’t quite imagine changing who I am. If I were to switch to another scientific field it would only be because I saw it as a useful tool to better understand the process of development.
Go ahead, everyone, answer the questions yourselves. If you aren’t a scientist, you can still always answer questions 2 and 3 (hint: the correct answer to #3 will always be some variant of evo-devo. Different answers will be marked down accordingly.)