I have been fascinated for some time with the issue of science in the everyday workforce. My goal is for our science centers and museums to give nearly every parent or caregiver the opportunity to describe his or her profession to a child in distinctly “scientific terms,” even if this is less obvious on its face. This might take the form of a program or exhibition entitled “My Job Is Science,” where careers of all types are described in terms of their connections to science: “I am a hospital technician, plumber, restaurant employee, auto mechanic, law enforcement or fire and rescue officer, teacher, farmer—and my job is about science.”
In so many professions today, scientific information is applied (or obtained) in the course of a day’s work. We will have succeeded if members of our diverse workforce who visit our museums can point proudly to examples of their careers from the perspective of science. Not every child aspires to be a scientist, but each can be enormously inspired to see and appreciate the science that is at work in the familiar routines of parents and caregivers. I don’t mean to suggest that this concept is entirely absent from our museums, but it can always be enhanced.
Perhaps the most compelling example of this idea involves the scientist, engineer, and mathematician that we call the farmer. While in government service, I was invited to participate in a training program in which we spent a few days observing the routines of individuals from widely dispersed segments of our workforce. I found no experience more profound than the day I spent shadowing a local farmer. In a single day, I watched him examine his soybeans for robust growth, attend to the health needs of his livestock, design and construct a more efficient grain storage facility, and spend the evening calculating his crop values on the international markets. He spoke of his dependence on “the scientists,” while employing precisely the investigative and creative skills that represent real science at work.
In the March/April 2014 edition of Dimensions, we highlight the ways in which science centers and museums bring the topic of agriculture to our communities. Let’s also recognize those skilled professionals who have made agriculture their careers. They are scientists in their own right—and there are many others like them across the global workforce.