It doesn’t seem like there’s that much difference between the phrases “I’m going to be” and “I am.” But, coming from my viewpoint, those phrases couldn’t be more different.
Two years ago in one of my theatre classes (because, remember, I’m a theatre minor amidst all of my biology programs), our professor led a discussion about being an actor. I remember that all of my classmates said that they had no problems saying, “I’m studying theatre” or “I’m a theatre student” or “I’m a theatre major,” but, when it came to saying, “I’m an actor,” they just couldn’t quite do it. Honestly, though I thought about what they’d all said, I couldn’t really relate. After all, though I’m a theatre minor, I’m not going to be onstage or backstage for the rest of my life – I’m going to be performing research in a lab.
Then last year, I was working at the Science Center when one of our younger guests walked up to me after my Amazing Science Demonstration show while I was still wearing my lab coat and asked if I was a “real scientist.” I was personally shocked by his question and, more so, by how long it took for me to respond. Finally, I mustered, “I’m going to be one day.”
That night, I emailed Dr. Homsi, our previous lab assistant who is very, shall we say, philosophical in nature and asked if or when I would be considered a “real scientist.” As expected, he quickly responded with an explanation about how an organic chemist at Sigma-Aldrich would be considered a scientist but a truck driver wouldn’t be considered a scientist. “But where’s the line of demarcation?” he asked. After a few great paragraphs, he ended with the following, “if you don’t think that you’ve crossed that line yet, then you certainly will do so once you’ve graduated from Fontbonne.”
Even just last year, I would’ve had a difficult time saying, “I’m a scientist” or “I’m a microbiologist.” I would’ve said things like, “I’m a biology major” or “I’m going to be a researcher, hopefully in infectious disease.” Now, however, I’m finding myself saying “I am” more than “I’m going to be.” Perhaps it’s because I’m spending half of my week working in a microbiology lab. Perhaps it’s because graduation is so near I can taste it. Perhaps it’s because all of my friends graduated last May and are already pursuing careers or graduate studies in the hard sciences. There are still times that I’ll say “I am” and then pause due to the striking thought, “Did I really just say that?” But overall, I think I’m becoming more and more comfortable with considering myself to be a “real scientist.”