So… what do you do?   2 comments

I get asked this question a lot. It’s a common question at parties.

I used to tell people I was a physicist, and invariably the person would mumble something about how hard their physics class was, tell me I’m really smart, and then run away. For a while, I told people I was a rocket scientist (which was true enough), and that was much better- *everyone* fantasized about being an astronaut when they were little, so it was easy to talk about how awesome my job was (and how lucky I am to have had it). Now, when people ask, I typically say I’m a scientist. That’s usually sufficient to arouse some curiosity, and often leads to very interesting conversations about all kinds of things: how your body works, how the universe works, and everything in between.

Now the truth is, and I honestly believe this, that because my salary has been paid by taxes for nearly my entire career, I have a duty to treat the taxpayer asking me about my job like an adult: make an honest effort to communicate what they are paying me to do. One of the goals of this blog is to effectively communicate the results of my research, paid for by you.

Obviously, when I’m speaking with colleagues I’m able to get very specific (by using jargon). To them, I say “I’m studying epithelial mechosensation and mechanotransduction using fluid flow and laser tweezers”, and go from there. Telling that to the remaining 99.9% of the population results in the first response I listed above- stare blankly, mumble something and run away.

So to you, a person who doesn’t have any formal training in science, I offer the following answer:

I am a scientist, in the Physics Department at Cleveland State University. I teach Introductory Physics to non-majors, and in my lab, I study how the individual cells in your body sense mechanical forces. It turns out that nearly every cell in your body can detect fluid flow, and your body uses this to maintain your blood pressure, body weight, and many other normal functions. When your cells malfunction, a lot of bad diseases can occur: Polycystic Kidney Disease, Polycystic Liver Disease, Cystic Fibrosis, Situs Inversus, Primary Ciliary Dyskinesia, and a lot more.

Although we know your cells sense fluid flow, we don’t know *how* they sense fluid flow, and what to do when they can’t. So I try and answer the question “how do cells respond to different kinds of forces?”. I grow kidney cells from a mouse, and push and pull on them while observing their behavior. I use a few different techniques to apply forces and several techniques to examine the cells. These (and more) are described on the ‘Lab resources’ page.

I’m very fortunate to have my job- to be a scientist. Being a scientist is great- I play with really fun toys, and I get paid to think. I enjoy teaching, especially the opportunity to teach non-majors, and I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing students in the lab.

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Posted August 28, 2010 by resnicklab in Uncategorized

2 responses to “So… what do you do?

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  1. Hey, this is helpful!

  2. I have PCD. Boy would I love to find a cure! =)

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