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What is science?

Meet the scientists!

Dr. Martin Jeffries, Research Professor of Geophysics, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Dr. Martin JeffriesWhen not working, Dr. Jeffries looks forward every week to the delivery of the "Guardian Weekly" newspaper, which, together with the "Guardian Unlimited" online, allows him to keep abreast of World and UK (United Kingdom) news. Give him a British newspaper and he will always turn to the sports pages for the cricket and football (soccer) scores. He enjoys reading fiction and non-fiction, when he can find the time. He likes biographies and history, contemporary fiction and mysteries and thrillers. Only occasionally does he read popular science books. He collects stamps, particularly polar stamps and those of Great Britain.

Why are you a scientist?
I am a scientist because I was fortunate to be influenced by certain teachers who helped me realise where I could best apply my curiosity about the natural world. I sometimes joke that I am an "accidental geophysicist" because my entire university education has been in Geography. Geography is a science and I owe my abiding interest in it and related sciences (geology, geophysics) to Mr. David Levy, a geography teacher, who made the subject so interesting to me when I was a13 year old student at Sale Boys Grammar School, England. As an undergraduate at the University of Sheffield, England, a class on glaciers and landscape by Professor Ron Waters helped me decide that studying ice and snow was what I wanted to do for a living.

What is science?
Science is systematic inquiry into natural phenomena and processes. We attempt to add to our knowledge and improve our understanding through observation, measurement and experimentation in the laboratory, in the field and on the computer. We use reproducible data to establish verifiable facts that allow us to predict how nature works and might change.

What skills and qualities are necessary in order to be a scientist?
Curiosity. A willingness to learn, to teach and to be taught (learning is a lifelong activity and you don’t have to do it entirely on your own). Patience and perseverance. Flexibility and quick-thinking. Be able to respond to rapidly changing events. An ability to improvise. Good communications skills (writing and speaking). Being able to communicate with non-scientists as well as scientists.

What is most enjoyable about your job?
Above all I enjoy actually doing the science. For me, there is nothing more pleasurable than being outside making measurements, obtaining data, then returning to the office and entering the data into the computer, analyzing and interpreting them, trying to make sense of what we have observed and measured. Also, I enjoy having a paper accepted for publication, and a proposal accepted for a grant. I also enjoy working with K-12 teachers and seeing them gain a new appreciation for snow and ice.

What frustrations do you face with your job?
I wish I could "do science" all the time, but it’s not possible. There are many other responsibilities that go along with being a scientist. For example, I get no pleasure out of writing research proposals, although it is a very important activity, since new grants are vital for maintaining one’s research programs and continuing to be a scientist.

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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.

biocontemporary:
belonging to the present time; current; modern

data:
a collection of measurements or observations

experimentation:
the process of running tests, trials, and experiments

flexibility:
the ability to adapt to changes

geology:
the science that studies the physical properties of the Earth and how it has changed over time. To do this, some scientists study rocks on Earth, and other scientists study other planets.

geophysicist:
a person who studies some part of the Earth and its systems

glacier:
snowfall that has increased over many years to form a mass of ice

grant:
money for a specific research purpose

perseverance:
patience, continuing a task or course of action

phenomena:
happenings or facts that can be seen or known through the senses

processes:
series of actions that produce something; a series of changes or acts

reproducible:
able to copy or duplicate; able to produce another time

systematic inquiry:
an organized process of looking for correct information or truth

verifiable:
can be proved