Why I Chose to Become a Scientist

Ray Jayawardhana: Being a scientist has given me a chance to see the world.

Growing up as a kid I was interested in science but I was also interested in many other things.  When I came to university in the U.S. I was quite drawn to the idea of a liberal arts education where you get exposed to a number of different disciplines and you get some sense of how different disciplines approach their practice. 

It’s a lot of fun to just play with ideas and share some insights with your friends and other students and faculty members.  But in particular I was sort of torn between going into science or science journalism.  As an undergraduate I sort of struggled with that choice.  

So writing my new book gave me the chance to sort of pretend to be a writer while my day job is very much as a practicing scientist doing research, teaching and working with students and post doctorate fellows and colleagues on interesting questions. 

Science is a very international and very open and engaging kind of endeavor.  So it’s a lot of fun to be part of.  You’ve got colleagues and friends from around the world.  You get to really chase after questions that you think of and that you can come up with clever ways of pursuing. There’s a bit of competition but there’s also a lot of collaboration among different scientists and it’s a very fun and exciting sort of career to have if you’re inclined that way.  

I’ve certainly enjoyed it a lot.  It’s given me a chance to see the world as well.  As a kid I dreamed of visiting Greenland and I have now.  I got a chance to go to Antarctica with a group of scientists to collect meteorites.  So as a scientist, especially if you’re a little bit broader you get to experience many different aspects of life and of the world as well. 

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Related Articles

Human skeletal stem cells isolated in breakthrough discovery

It's a development that could one day lead to much better treatments for osteoporosis, joint damage, and bone fractures.

Image: Nissim Benvenisty
Surprising Science
  • Scientists have isolated skeletal stem cells in adult and fetal bones for the first time.
  • These cells could one day help treat damaged bone and cartilage.
  • The team was able to grow skeletal stem cells from cells found within liposuctioned fat.
Keep reading Show less

How exercise helps your gut bacteria

Gut bacteria play an important role in how you feel and think and how well your body fights off disease. New research shows that exercise can give your gut bacteria a boost.

National Institutes of Health
Surprising Science
  • Two studies from the University of Illinois show that gut bacteria can be changed by exercise alone.
  • Our understanding of how gut bacteria impacts our overall health is an emerging field, and this research sheds light on the many different ways exercise affects your body.
  • Exercising to improve your gut bacteria will prevent diseases and encourage brain health.
Keep reading Show less

Giving octopuses ecstasy reveals surprising link to humans

A groundbreaking new study shows that octopuses seemed to exhibit uncharacteristically social behavior when given MDMA, the psychedelic drug commonly known as ecstasy.

Image: damn_unique via Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Octopuses, like humans, have genes that seem to code for serotonin transporters.
  • Scientists gave MDMA to octopuses to see whether those genes translated into a binding site for serotonin, which regulates emotions and behavior in humans
  • Octopuses, which are typically asocial creatures, seem to get friendlier while on MDMA, suggesting humans have more in common with the strange invertebrates than previously thought
Keep reading Show less