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What is science?

Meet the scientists!

Dr. Dick Barber, Professor of Biological Oceanography,
Duke University.

Dr. Dick BarberWhen not working, Dr. Barber likes to fish and play with his grandchildren and, best of all, he fishes with his grandchildren.

Why are you a scientist?
I can't say why I decided to become a scientist; I made the decision early in high school and never seriously considered any other profession. I grew up messing around salt water; I guess it got in my veins. In the summer following my freshman year in college, I took a marine ecology course at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole that was taught by John Ryther and Gene Odum. After that, the die was cast.

What is science?
Science is a process that enables us to systematically find out things that aren’t known. Often this is described as "answering fundamental questions" about how the natural world works.

What skills and qualities are necessary in order to be a scientist?
The skills and qualities that are necessary to be a successful scientist are the same as those that make a successful farmer or detective. You need a strong curiosity about the things you’re working with; you need to be a person who has strong hunches, sometimes called intuition; you need to be able to decide with inadequate information which of your hunches are right and which are wrong; and finally you need to be able to change your mind easily and not be embarrassed when you find that you were wrong.

What is most enjoyable about your job?
The most enjoyable part of being a research scientist is being able to follow my curiosity, respond to my hunches, find out when I’m wrong, and head off in a new direction. The other part that’s very enjoyable is working with students. Science is partly collaborative and partly competitive; the young people with their enormous energy and fresh vision are the perfect competitors and collaborators for older people who have the advantage of wisdom gained from experience. In the process of working with young people, everybody gains.

What frustrations do you face with your job?
There is a lot of busy work associated with any complex endeavor, and research science is no exception. That is, however, a small price to pay for the freedom to pursue your hunches.

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The bold words that are on this page are words that are in the glossary. You can find their meanings below.

If you want to see the whole glossary, click here.

collaborative:
cooperative; working with others on a project

competitive:
trying to win; working against someone else

endeavor:
a project, attempt, or a try

fundamental:
basic; central; serving as a foundation

inadequate:
not enough; not good enough

intuition:
the power to know or understand something without thinking it through in a logical way

natural:
produced by nature; not made by humans

systematically:
in an orderly or organized way