For a fair portion of scientists/academics holiday gatherings can provide ample practice with you elevator speech. What is it that you do exactly? Some sort of bio-scio-chem thing? With beakers right?
During a quiet moment at on such a family gathering one of my relatives slid in the following bomb
“So, why do we do research at all?”
My relative is a fairly regular guy without extreme predilections on any direction. He just doesn’t get why we pay money for someone to just…figure things out. He wasn’t meaning to be provocative, he just didn’t get it. What’s the value in trying to figure out anything without clear immediate, important (and lucrative) applications? Why not just do that stuff? As if the ideal situation would be 100% of scientists working on cancer research.
As a person who has been ensconced in science since an early age, that question seems so obvious and ridiculous that of course I stammered though a pretty sub-par answer. That particular missed connection is the most extreme example, but indicative of a lot of the conversations I've had about science/academia with them.
There have been plenty of smaller things, questions about having summers off, why I'm not teaching more, and such. The misconceptions have slowed over the years as I have provided feedback. Folks get that research is not something I am simply dabbling in on the side. That despite having a 'flexible' schedule I do not have summers off.
I guess public engagement begins at home. Even for me with a group that is very supportive and generally predisposed to appreciate work in higher education, it's been more of a slog than you might imagine. It's not an uphill battle for me at all, so I wonder how it is for folks who encounter more skepticism, and with the public in general.
Do the people close to you, relatives and friends get what you do? Not in the technical sense, but broadly as a scientist/academic? Do they all think you have summers off?