Why Doctor Who makes me a better scientist

Doctor Who is a British television phenomenon that I’ve recently become (a little) obsessed with. It’s a fantastic show, and if you haven’t seen it I recommend you check it out on Netflix. But in the course of watching it, I realize it’s actually making me into a better scientist. Here’s why:

1. The universe is exciting.
The Doctor, despite being ancient, is excited and energized by the new (and old) things he discovers. This excitement is imperative for scientists, because otherwise it’s way too easy to get bogged down in all the mundane and tedious tasks that go along with the cool, exciting discoveries.

2. You can’t work alone.

Repeatedly, the doctor goes off on his own without a companion. This usually doesn’t work out well, and his companions, when the leave him, remind him not to be alone for too long. It makes him even more of a mad man with a box. In science, collaboration is important and you really can’t get away with being completely isolated. In fact, you there is no way to be a good scientist without at least getting feedback from other scientists. And bouncing ideas off colleagues is a great way to develop and improve research ideas.

3. The scientific method is one of the most useful tools out there (other than a sonic screwdriver)

The doctor and his companions often find themselves in tight spots, trying to figure out alien races and wars without knowing much going into it. The doctor, perhaps without even realizing it, utilizes the scientific method. He observes the situation he’s in, he makes a guess (hypothesis) about what he thinks is going on based on what he already knows, he devises some way to try to get himself and his friends out of the mess or to resolve the situation, and then tries out that method. Then he sees how well it works, and if it doesn’t work he goes back and takes another guess or tries out another method. This is basically the scientific method.

Since scientists aren’t armed with sonic screwdrivers or TARDISes (yet!), the best we can do is use the scientific method. And luckily, I think that’s the doctor’s best tool in his toolkit.

4. It’s ok to not know things and be wrong.

The doctor usually admits (or is forced to admit by his companions) when he doesn’t know what’s going on or that he’s wrong. And instead of this being a bad thing, it usually leads to more fun and excitement because then he gets to figure out why that’s the case! In science, you’re almost always in the position of not knowing things (otherwise there wouldn’t be science to do!), and you pretty much have to be wrong at least sometimes. So it’s good to be reminded by the doctor that it’s not just ok to be wrong or confused–it’s an exciting opportunity!

5. Always keep trying to improve

The doctor seems to be constantly fiddling with the TARDIS, trying to make her work better, or adding rooms, or whatnot (I’m so excited for the upcoming episode, Journey to the center of the TARDIS!). And that’s what scientists should be constantly doing–analyzing the available tools and analyses and trying to figure out how to make them work better/more efficiently.

So this is my justification for why Doctor Who (and probably plenty of other shows like it) are a good thing for a developing scientist to watch. That and it’s wonderful and addicting. So go out there and explore this lovely universe we live in.

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