Science Career Stories

The Story Collider is a wonderful institution with a simple mission: getting scientists to share stories with a broad audience. Literal, old-fashioned storytelling: standing up in front of a group of people and spinning a tale, typically with a scientific slant but always about real human life. It was founded in 2010 by Ben Lillie and Brian Wecht; I got to know Ben way back when he was a postdoc at Argonne and the University of Chicago, before he switched from academia to the less well-trodden paths of communication and the wrangling of non-profit organizations.

By now the Story Collider has accumulated quite a large number of great tales from scientists young and old, and I encourage you to catch a live show or crawl through their archives. I was able to participate in one about a year ago, where I shared the stage with a number of fascinating scientific storytellers. One of them was one of my mentors and favorite physicists, Alan Guth. Of course he has an advantage at this game in comparison to most other scientists, as he gets to tell the story of how he came up with one of the most influential ideas in modern cosmology: the inflationary universe.

It’s a great story, both for the science and for the personal aspect: Alan was near the end of his third postdoc at the time, and his academic prospects were far from clear. You just need that one brilliant idea to pop up at the right time.

But everyone’s path is different. Here, from a different event, is my young Caltech colleague Chiara Mingarelli, who explains how she ended up studying gravitational waves at the center of the universe.

Finally, it is my blog, so here is the story I told. I basically talked about myself, but I used my (occasionally humorous) interactions with Stephen Hawking as a hook. Never be afraid to hitch a ride on the coattails of someone immensely more successful, I always say.

  1. What? Magnetic monopoles have not been proven to exist? And, that is the only reason why we have cosmic inflation? Sounds like they need another experiment up and running before someone kicks the bucket again… …or at least before they decide to change the age of the universe again.

  2. Great, as I programmer I got a kick out of the story with Python. It is a nice language and easier to learn, yet very powerful for experienced programmers.

    Amazing that you turned Hawking down twice.

  3. Remember: “When the WHY is big enough, the HOW doesn’t matter… If they see what you see, they’ll find a way. OSP, I will tell you professionally, that if you are in a financial situation of not being able to afford the start up cost, then OSP you need this opportunity more than anyone else!

  4. Robert,

    It turns out it is exactly where the Milky Way galaxy is located, which our sun is also located, and the religious fanatics were right all along…