Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Just Because I'm a Scientist Doesn't Mean I Know Anything

My six-year old daughter playing with her friend on the computer ran into some problems. So she found me in the house and said, "Daddy, I know you are a computer scientist so you know everything about computers and we need you to fix our game."

I've learned to expect this attitude from adults. Often when I talk to a non-academic about being a computer scientist I get responses like, "Should I get Windows or a Mac?", "I was thinking of setting up a wireless network." or "What do you think of that Google IPO?". Of course this is on top of them thinking I have a cushy academic job teaching three hours a week with summers off.

For my daughter I just went ahead and fixed her problem. I know when she becomes a teenager she'll run circles around me on the computer and will say "When I was a kid I thought you knew everything about computers. What do you computer scientists do anyway?" Then we can talk.


  1. On a similar note, a friend who is a mathematician got the following remark from a biologist who was ranting about grants and funding for expensive lab equipment: "You mathematicians just need your geometry boxes." Just imagine this person's view of a mathematician -- sitting at a desk with a ruler, protractor and compass...


  2. A lecturer of mine described this as the "You're a musician, come and help me shift this piano" problem.

    - Adam Sampson

  3. Didn't Andrew Wiles solve Fermat's Last Theorem while sitting at his desk in the attic with paper and pencil only? At least that's what he said he did for seven or eight years. I don't think he used any computers. On the other hand, Wolfram probably ONLY uses computers and more specifically his Mathematica program.