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I’m Not That Kind of Doctor: A Guide for Enjoying the Holidays

I’m Not That Kind of Doctor: A Guide for Enjoying the Holidays

As a graduate student or a card-carrying PhD, you may have discovered that you unwittingly (and probably inappropriately) have become the authority in your family on all things scientific and health related. For this reason, the upcoming holiday season might harbor some additional family-related stress for you.

Before you shout “I’m not that kind of doctor” for the hundredth time, here is another option. With a little deep breathing and a lot of hot toddies, these helpful hints might just steer you through the holiday perils of life among the lay, if only for a week.

Limit Your Scientific Vocabulary: While words like “mutation” seem benign enough to us, to the lay public it brings to mind nasty, oozing monsters and green vats of glowing hazardous waste. X-men may have made mutations cooler, but metal skin and mind reading are not likely what you’re working on.

Leave the Soapboxes at Home: You know your family, you know your science. The two may not agree. Although GMO crops and stem cells are important political topics, they can be a little too much for dinner conversation. If it isn’t actually going to be friendly, save the “friendly debating” for another time, even if you’re right.

Show Them the Glory of Wiki: When they ask you to explain something, think of them as rotation students and say “look it up”. With clear definitions, history, illustrations, etc., Wikipedia covers most of the scientific topics they are likely to ask about, and it is user friendly enough even for Grandma. (But you might have to explain what the internet is first.)

Give Up On “I’m Not That Kind of Doctor”: They’re proud of your accomplishments, even if they don’t know what they are.  Say thank you and smile. You probably understand the chemical reaction of their blood pressure medication or the current research of breast cancer genes better than their doctor does anyway.

What are your sanity-saving strategies for the holidays?

And Merry Christmas from all of us at Bitesize Bio


  1. Andrew Porterfield on January 18, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    Oh, man, you hit the nail, all right. A few years ago, my in-law asked me “You know a lot about medicine; wouldn’t you have wanted to be a doctor?” The fact that I was marketing PCR, proteomics, and fluorescent dyes (and didn’t know squat about medicine) was just not on that radar screen. The only way I ended the conversation was to say “I heard doctors aren’t making as much money as they used to.” She looked disappointed.

  2. Aaron Stephan on December 30, 2009 at 6:32 pm

    Great suggestions, Alex, and great to find you blogging at Bitesize Bio! One thing that I found helps a lot with family members understanding what I do and appreciate the value of my research is to bring them to the lab and show them around. Showing them the work environment and a few examples of “how we know what we know” really helps remove the abstractness of it all. Even if they still don’t understand 99% of it, at least they’ll have a better sense of what it means to be a basic science researcher.

  3. Alex on December 23, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Is it good job? Don’t burn that bridge just yet! Yup. Just smile and think of how quiet and understanding your cells/proteins/bacteria/etc are.

    I love the t-shirt. I have some graduate presents I need to get for some colleagues, and now I know what to get them. Thanks.

  4. CH on December 23, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Still haven’t figured out what to do with a relative who keeps offering me a job. “but you’re still in school, right? I can get you a job!”

  5. Kyrsten on December 23, 2009 at 5:18 pm

    Problem solved: you just need to wear this shirt to dinner and point to it when people start asking you questions: http://www.thinkgeek.com/tshirts-apparel/unisex/generic/cfdc/

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