Monday, February 21, 2005

Unexpected parallels

Reading about Marines doing what they do best, i.e. blowing stuff up and killing bad guys, is a good way to make yourself feel as useless as a soggy chocolate eclair by comparison. I've never blown anything up -- on purpose, that is -- and my kills are confined to two robins (BB gun) and one rabbit (car) which doesn't make me feel like a mighty hunter either (I don't know if the rabbit was an Evil Killer Rabbit but the robins were stealing our blueberries. They count.) Then I read this blog, and it mentioned being on patrol, in danger, for over 30 hours with only quick naps between firefights. In the tank.

And I thought to myself, I've done that.

It was back in the day when I was actively involved in scientific research. Nobody was shooting at me at the time, but I was working with dangerous stuff that could maim or kill me if I didn't follow procedures exactly. Class IV lasers (there is no Class V, which tells you something), large amounts of liquid nitrogen (if it stops being liquid in a closed container, you can have the civilian equivalent of a shrapnel grenade), heavy machinery, high voltage, and so on. Working for more than 30 hours straight through. Not my idea of fun. The job demanded it, and there I was. Alternating, as the saying goes, between mindless boredom and sheer terror. Did I remember to open the transfer vent? Did I remember all the viewport covers? Is that smell burning electrical insulation, or Fred toasting a bagel in the break room?

Anyway, it got me thinking about other similarities. (You can tell another list is in the offing, can't you.) The differences between scientists and Marines are pretty obvious, I agree. Marines all have the same haircut, scientists sometimes remember to get their hair cut at least once a year. Marines wear uniforms, scientists think they are doing well to match socks. But consider the following!
Marines and Scientists:
  1. are chronically underfunded, understaffed, and must perform miracles with equipment that is out of date and/or sourced to the lowest bidder.
  2. get to play with really neat stuff. (Fewer night-vision goggles in the labs, and if scientists blow something up people get upset. Hmm. Maybe that's a similarity. OK, how about scientists aren't supposed to blow things up?)
  3. go to exotic locales to do their work (CERN, Iraq, etc.)
  4. work really obnoxious hours in dangerous environments. And love it.
  5. have built-in "free food" sensors that can detect up to a 1 mile radius. (beer detected up to 5 miles)
  6. Use a specialized lingo nobody else understands. ("Tango Uniform", "Entropy rich")
  7. go through a lot of pain and annoyance to earn the right to their respective titles. (Yeah, yeah, Parris Island. Did you train there for 6 years?)
  8. try not to mention what they do to outsiders, because there is a considerable risk said outsiders will edge away nervously and remember urgent dentist appointments they have to go to. (This can be useful sometimes, like when you need to get rid of a bore at a party.)
  9. A little thing like changing careers doesn't change what you really are. Once a Marine/scientist, always a Marine/scientist. It's in the bone.


Blogger ScienceDave said...

As someone who has been to Parris Island and spent 6+ years earning the title 'Scientist'

7:29 AM, February 23, 2005  
Blogger ScienceDave said...

To finish the thought I just cut off by stupidly whacking the wrong button, I found the comparison apt and amusing. Different worlds, yes, but similar intensity in commitment.

7:32 AM, February 23, 2005  
Blogger Barb said...

An interesting parallel. Class IV lasers - technogeek, indeed!

8:01 AM, March 16, 2005  

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