Work and Well-Being in Science

This is a machine transcription and therefore it may contain inaccuracies, errors, or mispronunciations. Notice an error you think needs changing? Please contact the Bitesize Bio team using this form:

Kenneth Vogt: Hello, everyone! This is Kenneth. Vote for the happy scientist.

Kenneth Vogt: We're so delighted to be with you today, and we've got a very interesting interview today with someone who's done a study that

Kenneth Vogt: I don't know where they came up with this idea, but it's such a great idea, and I hope you think so too. So allow me to introduce our guest today is Dr.

Kenneth Vogt: Brandon by you invite you nothing. and he is an associate professor at Catholic University of America. Brandon. Welcome to the program.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Thanks, guys. Good to be here

Kenneth Vogt: great. I wonder if if you'd like you could give a bit of a potted bio or anything else you'd like to add to who you are.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Yeah, sure. I mean, I am a professor sociology associate professor of sociology at Catholic University. As you mentioned.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: my area research is is mainly an organizational culture. So I've looked at how cultures shape human, flourishing broadly in a business, in religion and in science. So those are the 3 sectors that I study

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and the work we're going to talk about today is is part of the research on on scientists.

Kenneth Vogt: All right. So

Kenneth Vogt: that being said, we're gonna we're gonna be talking about a study that you've recently done. Get what's the title of your study.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: It's called work and well-being and science.

Kenneth Vogt: all right, and it it focuses to a large extent also on on the impact of beauty. And when it comes to wellness for scientists, so let's. Let's just start with that. Beauty is not something that least the outside world often things of when they think of science.

Kenneth Vogt: But that is probably not the case, for scientists. Scientists probably see a lot of beauty. So so it does lead to a question: what does beauty mean to a scientist? What? How? How are they seeing beauty in their work.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Yeah, it's you're right. I mean a lot of people on the outside seem puzzled when I tell them that i'm studying beauty and science. They don't see those words going together at all, and I think we have a stereotype of scientists as being cold and dispassionate and socially awkward, and you know, unemotional.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Apparently they haven't met many scientists. Yeah, no, really, that's that's the yeah, I think that's that's really the stereotype we're trying to dispel. And yeah, so so we found actually the the a little bit about how this started, because a number of years ago I was doing another massive international study of scientists, and I was on a team with a number of other sociologists, and we were looking at the social context of science, everything from

Brandon Vaidyanathan: family life, ethics, religion, those sorts of things. And at the end of these long interviews we did about 600 interviews. Towards the end of the interviews we heard scientists telling us about the the many sacrifices they were making for the sake of their work. They're giving up their

Brandon Vaidyanathan: sometimes their health. Sometimes, you know, prestigious jobs in industry, etc. We were mainly studying academic scientists, bench scientists, and and we asked them, Why do you do it? Then? A lot of them would say, because it's beautiful. And so I was really struck by the use that word it kept coming up so often. So I really want to understand. What do they mean by this word.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: And and so it means different things to to scientists in different fields. I I study physicists and biologists, and there's some

Brandon Vaidyanathan: some commonalities and some differences. And so so we find that there aren't there aren't an infinite number of things. We people say beauty in the eye of the beholder. It's not exactly true. We find that you know, in those like initial interviews that we did, we? We were asking hundreds of scientists, You know. What do you encounter beauty in your work, and what does that mean to you?

Brandon Vaidyanathan: We found that it only came to about 8 or 10 things. We were always talking about symmetry or simplicity, or elegance, or a sense of harmony, or a sense of fit, or the hidden order, or the inner logic of systems. And so it was a range of things

Brandon Vaidyanathan: that kept coming up over and over again, and and sometimes they were referring to experiences of all when they were pulled out of themselves, feeling a sense of vastness, sometimes a sense of wonder, and they use that as a as beauty. But we find that that for physicists Beauty

Brandon Vaidyanathan: often means symmetry and simplicity. and so symmetry in the sense of the symmetry of theories and laws. You know translation across space, translation across time a law that is

Brandon Vaidyanathan: true here on earth is also true on Mars, and any of those sorts of of of symmetries. and and then simplicity, in the sense that they want to reduce things to the fundamentals. There's there's a lot of

Brandon Vaidyanathan: a drive towards

Brandon Vaidyanathan: developing a unified field theory, for instance, right trying to find a single model, or at least a model that would fit on a coffee mug or a t-shirt that explains all the fundamental forces of reality. So that's a you know. A lot of the physicists find that beautiful

Brandon Vaidyanathan: biologists Don't find those things beautiful. They they really seem to gravitate towards complexity.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and they want to understand a system in all of its intricacies. They want to understand. You know how a particular mechanism is activated in some context, and not in others.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: And and so there's much

Brandon Vaidyanathan: more resistance actually towards simplification, and then wanting to understand things with with adequate complexity. And there's also more of a preference, for.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: you know, visual beauty and biology. So the kinds of patterns that you see, and under the microscope, and you know, seeing life unfold. And

there's a lot of visual beauty there.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and elegance means something different to biologists. It seems then, to physicists a lot of physicists talk about the elegance of theories whereas biologists talk about elegance in terms of experimental design.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: so those are the differences that we see largely. But there there are also similarities primarily in terms of

Brandon Vaidyanathan: the hidden order. That is, you know what

Brandon Vaidyanathan: is the what are the sort of deeper structures of reality underlying the the chaos that we see, what is the underlying pattern, so describing that hidden order uncovering that hidden order is equally beautiful to both business and biologists. And and then the in our logic of systems that the you know causal mechanisms that drive

Brandon Vaidyanathan: these these different structures that explain how reality works. That's also equally beautiful to physicists and biologists.

Kenneth Vogt: Excellent! I I noticed you said something interesting at the beginning of all that that you study

Kenneth Vogt: biologists and physicists.

Kenneth Vogt: They are usually on the other end of that of what we're. They're the study years that we said. That's probably how they see themselves.

Kenneth Vogt: but it is fascinating this the same.

Kenneth Vogt: The same methodology gets used. Any decent study, whether it's biology or physics or sociology.

Kenneth Vogt: you You gotta have the same pieces to it.

Kenneth Vogt: and and i'm saying this, by the way, because Sometimes some of your scientific brethren Don't, give as much respect to sociology and psychology as they might.

Kenneth Vogt: but they are, you know they are.

Kenneth Vogt: They are deep disciplines all the same.

Kenneth Vogt: And you know, this this notion of beauty is certainly been available to everybody, as maybe as a

Kenneth Vogt: as a lay person, as it were not an expert in it, but they they see it all the time.

Kenneth Vogt: In fact, I just noticed the the the latest newsletter from bite size. Bio came out, and it this is not. I did not have any conversations with

Kenneth Vogt: the editor about this. Something just showed up

Kenneth Vogt: The end of the newsletter is some paintings of somebody who's making paintings of electron microscope images, and you know, to make them as scientifically accurate as possible. And of course they're gorgeous.

Kenneth Vogt: And you. You can't not be compelled by that kind of thing, and some of the things you just mentioned to like like elegance is Elegance is a mathematical concept, I think, is, I think, is beautiful.

Kenneth Vogt: and

Kenneth Vogt: and it's now I've I've mentioned that before, and some of the other things you've talked about. I mentioned before in the podcast. because.

Kenneth Vogt: you know, biology is made of chemistry. Chemistry is made of physics. Physics is made of math

Kenneth Vogt: that's just made of metric, you know.

Kenneth Vogt: but but they're all. They all touch each other eventually, you know. So so

Kenneth Vogt: now you mentioned at the beginning the name of your study did not have the word beauty in it. It was about wellness and well being for scientists. So so what's the connection there between beauty and and well being?

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Yeah. So I mean part of the reason we chose that title was because we didn't want to bias the study only towards those scientists who cared about aesthetics and beauty. When we did some pilot testing.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Before this study was launched, we found that the physicists seem to be taking it at disproportionately higher rates than biologists. They seem to really care about the topic. And there's there's some debate in physics actually about whether beauty is good or bad

Brandon Vaidyanathan: for scientific progress. So we decided to figure out a way to make this this sort of potential selection bias go away, and we thought of well-being as being sort of a neutral and and important area.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: There's a lot of research suggesting a a looming mental health crisis, or even a a crisis in in progress in in the side of the community, particularly coming out of the Uk.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: High rates of burnout and high rates of depression, particularly among postgraduate students and postdocs. So early career scientists seem to have a lot of mental health challenges these days, and

Brandon Vaidyanathan: you know, partly it has to do with the precariousness of the job Market partly has to do with. The pressure is related to the sort of increasing.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: you know, emphasis on on publish or parish, and and metrics for success, and so forth funding cuts, all sorts of factors institutionally that are affecting this. And so we really thought it's important to understand how scientists are doing, and we thought that that

Brandon Vaidyanathan: I mean it really was a question for us as to whether aesthetic experience these kinds of encounters with beauty or experience of on wonder were related

Brandon Vaidyanathan: at all to to well being among scientists. So that was what we

Brandon Vaidyanathan: wanted to find out. One of them even want to find out what duty meant, and then then sort of its distribution, and the scientific population, the different types of beauty, and so forth. But also it's it's impact. And so

Brandon Vaidyanathan: so we decided to focus on well, being a sort of the main

Brandon Vaidyanathan: theme of the study. And we did find actually that aesthetic experience is strongly associated

Brandon Vaidyanathan: with well-being, and so we have a one of our. We have a couple of different measures of well being we use for positive well being something called the Harvard flourishing index. And that's a global measure of things like life, satisfaction, physical health, mental health, a sense of purpose, close social relationships, and so on

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and and so so on, that count scientists who encounter a aesthetic experiences more and more often in their work. So

Brandon Vaidyanathan: feeling you know the various we we didn't ask them directly about, you know. Do you contribute in your work? It wasn't just that we gave them a number of things like, how frequently do you

Brandon Vaidyanathan: find yourself pleased by encountering symmetries in in your, in in the whether the equations or the objects you're studying, or how frequently do you find yourself being surprised by the discovery of a hidden order, or you know. So so we we would break it down into those kinds of components.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: How often were you? Did Did you find yourself feeling a sense of gratitude for learning something new? Or did you feel? How often did you feel so pulled it pulled out of yourself.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: or or feel a sense of of vastness in the face of what you were studying. So we had a number of indicators of that sort, and so the more frequently they had those experiences the better their overall. Well being on this, on this flourishing index net of all kinds of controls for country gender discipline, even the effects of the pandemic.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: So it's it's suggest that there's there really a strong relationship between between beauty and well being

Kenneth Vogt: right.

Kenneth Vogt: Yeah, I heard I heard a lot of words in there that

Kenneth Vogt: relate back to other episodes. We've done unhappy scientists because our objective is similar to what your study subject to us would want to. We want people to be able to stay in science and build a career that's successful and that makes them feel fulfilled.

Kenneth Vogt: and the where they enjoy their lives. But you know there are those other parts of life that have to come into it.

Kenneth Vogt: You know you don't ruin your health to make it as scientist. You don't ruin your relationships to make it as a scientist.

Kenneth Vogt: not if you want to do it properly. Yeah. So

Kenneth Vogt: tell us a little bit about the

Kenneth Vogt: the the structure of the study, you know. Did How did you choose? So you interviewed? How many people did you interview. How did you conduct your your data collection? How did that All work?

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Yes, we had a it's a mixed method study. We had a quantitative and qualitative component. And so

Brandon Vaidyanathan: for the quantitative part we wanted the study to be as representative of the population of scientists as possible, and so what we did was we restricted ourselves to Phd. Granting institutions in these countries that we studies, we studied 4 countries, the Us. Uk, Italy, and India, and we did that for a couple of reasons one was these were a subset of a larger study that we'd done earlier.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and and these countries had the highest response rates in that previous study, so we thought there would be a higher chance of success. We also had established research networks in each of these countries.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: so we had a team on the ground. We had interesting differences in in relation to say the R. And D. Infrastructure that that was dedicated towards you know the the the proportion of of the Gdp of each of these countries, dedicated, to which science had some interesting differences, you know, with the Us. And Uk being the highest, and then

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and giving the lowest, and it also some interesting differences in aesthetic cultures. So we were, you know, curious to know whether there might be some

Brandon Vaidyanathan: national differences because of the value of things like the arts across these countries. So so we selected those countries, and then we

Brandon Vaidyanathan: restricted ourselves, as I said to these Phd. Granting institutions. partly because that would allow us to get a sampling frame, which is a list of all the people we could sample from.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and so we could guarantee that for our Phd. Granting institutions, there would be enough information on the websites about all of the scientific members of the side of the communities. And these organizations right? So all the graduate students, post Docs

Brandon Vaidyanathan: faculty, etc. And so we could scrape all those websites. compile a list, and then and then sample from that.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: And so the the you know. In these countries the the vast amount of scientists. Actually the the largest proportion is from the Us. So we had to stratify that sample. We couldn't take everybody, otherwise we'd end up just getting more us scientists, so we to restrict ourselves to a smaller number of us scientists.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and then we we took the rest in the other countries without having to stratify. And so we there. We got a list of about 22,000 scientists from from this from this population.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and and they we invited all them to to the survey.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: We got a completion rate of about 3,500 scientists. So that's 15% completion rate. We had a higher

Brandon Vaidyanathan: response rates. The number of scientists who started the survey were about 6,000, something like that. But there were a lot of issues we we came across. Some of the institutions blocked our study because they thought it was as it was a scam.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: So so we had. We had a whole bunch of challenges. We tried to do everything we could to increase the response rate we put out ads in nature. We we had a massive advisory board of of really renowned scientists across all these countries. We had written to department chairs. We had

Brandon Vaidyanathan: a number of ipads raffle that we had. Every every participant got a gift card, and the amount of about $20. So we did a lot of things, but but a lot of people were suspicious that you know we academics get out, You know. The scientists get a ton of emails.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: you know, inviting you to like scammy conferences that aren't real, and you know. So we did have a lot of queries saying, how do I know this is really legitimate studies? So a lot of people weren't convinced. So unfortunately the best we could do was to get this 15% rate.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and we were able to. Fortunately, since we had the population parameters, we could correct for any selection bias, at least along the lines of country discipline to some extent gender

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and and position, you know. So so if if you know, we did have more Indian scientists compared to the to the proportion in in the population who took our survey, and we had to wait them

Brandon Vaidyanathan: lower and then wait the Us. Scientists higher, for instance. so we could do those kinds of corrections. So that was the survey.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and then I after the survey, we we, you know, we had these 3,500. We asked them if if they wanted to participate in a follow up in depth interview, which would be about an hour or 2 an hour and a half long.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and and that was done over Zoom, and we had about a 1,000 scientists who agree to be part of that. And so from that sample we took about 200, and, and, you know, wanted some diversity across discipline, gender and position, and so on.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and we did some in-depth interviews as well.

Kenneth Vogt: Excellent. So

Kenneth Vogt: I I know you were. You're making some apologies for oh, the response right and all that. But really matters at the end. You had a solid

Kenneth Vogt: cool to.

Kenneth Vogt: and you know for all the biologists out there here that this is good stuff you you may want to look into it more closely.

Kenneth Vogt: So let me flip, flip this around a little bit.

Kenneth Vogt: because i'm all this Well, being beauty sounds great.

Kenneth Vogt: Is it always good for scientists to encounter beauty in their work.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Yeah, yeah, it's a good question. So there are a couple of little challenges that that we found in our in our work to that, and one of them has to do with beauty being a source of cognitive bias. And this seems to be the case primarily in theoretical physics, where

Brandon Vaidyanathan: there's been for the last century or so a lot of discussion around whether beautiful equations are a reliable guide to the truth or not, and and it seems that for the first half of the twentieth century a lot of prominent scientists were insistent that if you, if you just go with beauty, you will turn out

Brandon Vaidyanathan: to be right. So so people like Dirac, for instance, was very famous for stating that it is more important to have beauty in one's equations than for them to fit experiment

Brandon Vaidyanathan: because your experiments could be wrong. But but if you're you know, if your if your equations are are elegant, and if they're if there's beauty in them, you can probably

Brandon Vaidyanathan: account on experiments eventually validating them. There are others like Marie Gilman. you know, Brenda Heisenberg, many of them who who thought that beauty was was a

Brandon Vaidyanathan: was a guide, reliable guide to the truth. the challenges. After the 1960 S. And particularly in the last few decades.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: a lot of physicists have been saying that, you know we relied on the beautiful math to invest a ton of money in things like large Hadron, Collider. and very expensive experiments that Haven't really produced much new

Brandon Vaidyanathan: understanding, you know. So the the discovery, Higgs Boson, for instance, about 10 years ago.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: simply validated theories that were develop in the sixties, but they haven't really produced anything new, and that that's the only real major discovery that's come from that. The you know that

Brandon Vaidyanathan: you know, a lot of scientists are saying that that some of these other kinds of beauty driven theories like super symmetry and super string theory, and so on.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: There's there's really no empirical evidence for them, and it's not even clear how one would empirically

Brandon Vaidyanathan: assess those theories right? So how do you?

Brandon Vaidyanathan: How do you assess, like multi versus like, how do you empirically validate that? So? Some scientists are arguing that this sort of beauty driven

Brandon Vaidyanathan: science is not. It's not science. It's fairy tale, physics, or or it's not even wrong. We don't even know what to call it, but it's still sort of science fiction that designs so that's one kind of complaint.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and and the the physicist Sabina Hassenfelder has has is particularly then vocal about this, and she or she wrote a really great book called Lost in Math.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: For anyone who is interested in this topic. and the subtitle is how beauty leads physics astray.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and we haven't heard any any similar complaints among biologists. The lot of the biologists we talked to would say that you know beauty is, you know it's good to have. I mean it's it's a motivator, you know it. It draws you in to become a scientist or

Brandon Vaidyanathan: or it's important to have actually beauty as a heuristic or or or a guide in experimentation, because you you don't want a messy experiment. You want your experiment to be designed in a way that's elegant. You don't want to communicate science in a way that's messy. You want to communicate in a way that's aesthetically pleasing.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: So

Brandon Vaidyanathan: So that's you know. At least on the biology side. There seems to be less of a concern about this cognitive bias.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: The other concern that's come up, though, is, is that

Brandon Vaidyanathan: the insistence that that science is about the pursuit of beauty could be used to exploit scientists. And so we've heard from a few of the scientists. We study that

Brandon Vaidyanathan: the expectation that you should love what you do, you should be glad that someone is even paying you to do what what you you know ought to be pursuing as a hobby, or just for the sake of love. Don't ask for promotions, you know. Why are you? Why are you asking for more pay?

Brandon Vaidyanathan: And so women scientists in particular have have told us that they've heard this narrative of science as a vocation or or science, as as something you should do for the sake of love

Brandon Vaidyanathan: being used as a a a justification for denying them promotion or or tenure, or, you know, paying.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: you know, junior faculty, or or even contingent faculty, you know, adequately.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: So that's a big problem. You don't want beauty to be used as a sort of

Brandon Vaidyanathan: you know, tool for exploiting people. So that. That's the other kind of concern that we've seen.

Kenneth Vogt: Sure, and I think that concern applies to everything that isn't

Kenneth Vogt: directly the science, everything is surrounding it. There.

Kenneth Vogt: If if you're getting a charge of the the fascination of intellectual endeavor

Kenneth Vogt: that can be used as an excuse, therefore you shouldn't be paid, or should be paid enough, or

Kenneth Vogt: or you shouldn't have a good work Environment. You know

Kenneth Vogt: it. These things should also be there. It's not so simple that this is merely a transaction.

Kenneth Vogt: We pay you, you work and the story, I mean, that's no kind of life. It's no kind of career.

Kenneth Vogt: So.

Kenneth Vogt: And and I love this Another another thing, that at least from my vantage point, is

Kenneth Vogt: a new thing in the toolbox. It's adding beauty to the toolb. So we've already talked a lot about about well being a on a happy scientist. And and by the time that is really

Kenneth Vogt: focused on helping people advance in their careers, and sometimes. That's by

Kenneth Vogt: learning how to do a Western block, or i'm learning how to read your full Sightometry results, but sometimes it's something more esoteric, and and there's nothing wrong with that. Sometimes that word even gets used as a as a pejorative. It's a character isn't bad it's it's another world.

Kenneth Vogt: and you know one of the things to you you brought up, and I I like the the fact that there are

Kenneth Vogt: physicists and biologists in your study, because they they really have some different strengths. and I've been reading several really interesting books of late that are coming from physicists

Kenneth Vogt: that

Kenneth Vogt: everybody should read, and you know biologists.

Kenneth Vogt: but everybody. You're like our mathematical universe by Max Tegm are fantastic or another one. So i'm looking at my kindle here.

Kenneth Vogt: So the case against reality. What a great button. Yeah.

Kenneth Vogt: And it's talking about the biology of why we perceive the world away. We do.

Kenneth Vogt: And you know the perceptions.

Kenneth Vogt: our how we find beauty. Now, some people find beauty and those like

Kenneth Vogt: electron microscope images some people will find beauty in. but in things that aren't visual. Maybe maybe it's sound.

Kenneth Vogt: you know. And you think about. You know biologists that are studying animals, and they care about the sounds these animals make.

Kenneth Vogt: And yeah.

Kenneth Vogt: you know it's all it's all part and parcel.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Yeah. One of the things we find, though, is, is that all of those forms of beauty, whether whether it's the visual beauty or or you know, other kinds of sensory beauty, or even the beauty that has to do

Brandon Vaidyanathan: with utility. Right? So whether it's the the use of a beautiful equation as as a as a heuristic for truth, or or the beauty that you build into your experimental design. All of those things are oriented towards something that we call the beauty of understanding.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: And so I I recently interviewed I mean I have a podcast called Beauty at work, and I and I recently interviewed a a virologist who was telling me. you know. Yeah, when I look into the microscope they're pretty images and so on. But that's not really

Brandon Vaidyanathan: that interesting to me where I really find beauty and what we talk about amongst ourselves as beautiful

Brandon Vaidyanathan: is the beauty of understanding. So so all of those other forms of beauty. The sensory forms of beauty

Brandon Vaidyanathan: are really valuable only in as much as they contribute to understanding, shedding new light on something we use. So that's where those those themes of of grasping the hidden order or inner logic of things really seem to resonate for most of the scientists. In fact, close to 80% of scientists said that that was what beauty meant to them.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Either the the hidden or discovering they had an order or the inner logic of of of things.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: So we see that as the Orienting force, in fact, we want to argue that science is a quest for the beauty of understanding. That's the business of science. But if you're not in that business you're gonna burn out it's. You know you're You're kind of you're you're in it for other things, you know. Maybe you're in it because it's a nice career. It's a comfortable job, etc.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: But then you may decide that there are other things that could meet those goals for you better.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: But primarily those those who seem to be committed to doing science. The vast majority of them say they're they're really in it

Brandon Vaidyanathan: to have that experience of of the beauty of understanding.

Kenneth Vogt: Exactly.

Kenneth Vogt: Well, I mean we're all familiar with the concept of of

Kenneth Vogt: beauty. Truth is beauty, and beauty is truth, and and these are these are high order

Kenneth Vogt: descriptors.

Kenneth Vogt: It's not so basic as that's pretty.

Kenneth Vogt: or that's attractive. You know beauty is something far deeper than that. Yeah.

Kenneth Vogt: And there's nothing wrong with pretty attractive, either, You know there's a purpose. But yeah, so

Kenneth Vogt: hmm. yeah, this is

Kenneth Vogt: this. This is some interesting stuff here, so I want to call out again. You just mentioned. You have a podcast, and it's called. It's called Beauty at work beauty at work, so that might be one that you folks want to check out

Kenneth Vogt: it. It's funny. And in the podcast world I I find there's not really that much competition.

Kenneth Vogt: It's. It's easy to say listen to ours. But listen to his, too, you know, because just

Kenneth Vogt: we we want to get information in from all directions. So I see the information more like data.

Kenneth Vogt: It's data from all directions which we then turn into information because we start to see connections between the data that we pick up in different places. You like this study. I wouldn't. I wouldn't have looked for a study like yours out there. I wouldn't have thought it existed.

Kenneth Vogt: So you know your people reached out to us, and we we do appreciate that because

Kenneth Vogt: because it fits well into what we're trying to accomplish here, too. We want have happy scientists out there.

Kenneth Vogt: Well being it's gonna matter to them every way they can get it. I want them to have it, and

Kenneth Vogt: and beauty always struck me, in fact, that you know, in between the time we first contacted and and recording this.

Kenneth Vogt: I I immediately thought of a microscopist that I thought you guys got to talk. This is yeah, he's. He's constantly posting beautiful pictures on and on linkedin. And and he's an interesting guy, but I knew you'd be an interesting guy, too, from our our introductory Conference conversations.

Kenneth Vogt: But you know when else

Kenneth Vogt: what we expect a sociologist to talk to a microscopist. I mean, yeah, you're not normally gonna interact with each other. You're not. You're probably not even at the same conferences. You know. Oh, definitely not. Yeah.

Kenneth Vogt: But you know, science is such a big world.

Kenneth Vogt: and 2 people outside it.

Kenneth Vogt: You know it All scientists, scientists, you know. Every biologist knows chemistry, right biologists, and and it's funny how there's a hierarchy of some respect some things more than others depending on where they started from.

Kenneth Vogt: Yeah, but you know it all. It all keeps branching out, and it all keeps crossing over. And

Kenneth Vogt: this notion of elegance, I think, comes from mathematics originally, and

Kenneth Vogt: and I. I like what you said earlier, talking about how biologists

Kenneth Vogt: have more of an interesting complexity.

Kenneth Vogt: And but there's a reason why life is complex and that complexity. You can't boil it down

Kenneth Vogt: some stuff. Isn't that simple. There is a minimum.

Kenneth Vogt: you minimum reduction, and after that it's it's just all

Brandon Vaidyanathan: protoplasm, You know

Kenneth Vogt: you know the notion of life is a is a a fascinating one. You know. When you, when you're studying chemistry, you don't see life necessarily. But when you study biology it can't avoid it.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Yeah. Person sociology. It's all about life, right? Exactly. Yeah.


Kenneth Vogt: All right. So

Kenneth Vogt: now you've got a a website for your study, which, by the way, is really really nice website. Folks will post a link to that in the show notes so that you can me to access that we'll post a link to you to your podcast there, too, because

Kenneth Vogt: want to have as much outreach for you as possible.

Kenneth Vogt: If somebody wanted to contact you, what would be their their best way to go about it?

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Yeah, they could. They could easily contact me on my university email. So that's Brandon, V.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: B. R. A. And V at Cu. A edu.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: There's also a form on on my website, and and you should be able to contact me through that. But yeah, happy to chat with with anyone who's interested in our work. We have a lot of interviews actually with biologists on the podcast planning to do more, you know, so

Brandon Vaidyanathan: delighted to to to learn more from people who are interested. We also have a forthcoming article in the Journal of Bio sciences on beauty and biology that should be out

Brandon Vaidyanathan: sometime in the next few months.

Kenneth Vogt: All right, Very good. Well, we'll we'll post the the links for your contacts on our it's also. And and you know, of course you're on linkedin. So that's another place that that, do you do you? Nothing can be found. Yeah.

Kenneth Vogt: So so what's coming up next? What what do you? What are you gonna do beyond the beyond this? What's the next next step?

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Yeah, I've been trying to look at the role of beauty in other domains of work. And I, you know my my conversations with scientists suggested that

Brandon Vaidyanathan: a lot of these experiences Aren't necessarily unique to science.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: So I've begun some initial explorations, and they're very I mean, they're not very scientific. They're they're very journalistic. So I've done some Youtube videos from short films with cocktail bar owners and chefs. And you know, folks working in the nonprofit world.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Lawyers believe it or not. There's beauty in the law, and so some doing that those sorts of conversations I I've been hosting a series of salon dinners.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: bringing people together from different backgrounds, scientists as well as others.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: to talk about what beauty means to them in the work that they do, which has been really a a fascinating experience, because it a lot of people find themselves reinvigorated by discovering aspects of their work that

Brandon Vaidyanathan: they didn't realize we're motivating and and worthwhile and meaningful.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: And and so that's that's that's another sort of expanding project. The other sort of thing I've been trying to do is you know the this sort of the concept of the beauty of understanding that we find

Brandon Vaidyanathan: we really think that the world has something to learn from what the scientific community has to offer here. So one of the puzzles in our study was, you know, we When we set out to do this work.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: we thought that scientists might might think that

Brandon Vaidyanathan: communicating the beauty of science would help build public trust in science, because particularly in fields like, you know, when it comes to climate change and so on. There, there's there's a.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: You know, complaint that the way in which science is communicated tends to be very dogmatic, moralistic kind of finger wagging, you know. Listen to us. We're the experts we know better. So so we thought, you know. Maybe maybe scientists would would see beauty as a as a you know better way to communicate science and more attractive way.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: But when we asked scientists this question in our interviews, a lot of them said, No, that's that's really naive. This people are going to come to whatever set of facts you bring them, no matter how beautiful they're going to come to those facts with their own political priors. And so if if your facts reinforce those prize, they'd be happy to support your science and of your facts

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Threaten those priors, then then they'll they'll reject you, and and no matter how beautiful your science is, it's not going to to come through.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: So it's very old. Actually. Hobbes made this argument some 350 years ago, and it's a scientists seem very hobs in. But but we think it's not the beauty of facts, but rather the beauty of understanding, so that ability to grasp the inner logic of things that that you know it requires intellectual humility. It requires

Brandon Vaidyanathan: a willingness to be wrong, even a sense of delight in being wrong, because you can learn something new.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: So we're wondering like, how do we harness that? And and because we think that our polarized society needs to develop that sort of a virtue. So we try to figure out how that can be done. We've been trying to bring together some scientists and science, educators and and science philanthropists.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: And so we're trying to to, to, to to have some conversations around that to see how this particular

Brandon Vaidyanathan: you know process that's cultivated in the scientific community, not perfectly because science has its own internal politics, and so on, but but at least I don't think that's going to be a surprised any of the listeners. Yeah, yeah. So we don't want to be naive about. You know about the problems in the scientific world. But the very least. There's this, this idea that there, there's this ideal

Brandon Vaidyanathan: that isn't even there in the in the public. And so we want to figure out. How do we expand that make that happen? And

Brandon Vaidyanathan: And yeah, more generally, i'm interested. I'm I my, I've applied for another grant to to to look at meaningfulness and scientific work more broadly. And so so we'll see if that comes through. But

Brandon Vaidyanathan: yeah, there's some some other, you know, projects on them down the road, and and hopefully come through

Kenneth Vogt: well, that that that next grant I hope you get it, because that sounds like a really really useful study.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: I hope so you mentioned You mentioned humility earlier, and that's something that I have touted

Kenneth Vogt: over and over again, especially to

Kenneth Vogt: 2 people that are all, you know, highly educated and often very intelligent.

Kenneth Vogt: Humility is so valuable, you you there's so much more to be gained, and when you're putting out into the world.

Kenneth Vogt: if you put it out with humility.

Kenneth Vogt: It people are a lot more receptive, you know. I I understand the argument that has been made about. People have their priors, and they're going to just look for Fax to support that.

Kenneth Vogt: And we all do that to a certain extent. But but I don't believe everybody does that all the time. Yeah. So we got to take advantage of those moments.

Kenneth Vogt: So

Kenneth Vogt: if if beauty will help with that fabulous, and it's gonna make for happier scientists. They do that. Yeah, it it's. We want to. Everybody wants to do their work.

Kenneth Vogt: and, you know, not be bothered. But they they would also love for it to be appreciated.

Kenneth Vogt: and especially if people are working in really periodite fields really highly focused.

Kenneth Vogt: it's hard for them to get appreciation for the outside world, because the outside world doesn't understand anything they do, you know. Yeah. So

Kenneth Vogt: learning to communicate, not just among your peers, but but with the wider world, it's also something that we really

Kenneth Vogt: we really promote it to happy scientists because it's going to make for a better career for you.

Kenneth Vogt: You know better day to day, too.

Kenneth Vogt: because it's One thing is like, you know, if your mother just like oh, well, my son and I he's he's some big shot Scientist: that. Yeah. Great, that feels good. But you'd like them to have a little more understanding. What wouldn't it be great for Mom to understand? Have a little more grasp what you're doing. No, maybe your mother's a scientist, too. I don't know, but

Kenneth Vogt: I I remember a time when I remember in eighth grade I came home with

Kenneth Vogt: my geometry homework. and my mother said to me for the first time, ever.

Kenneth Vogt: I can't help you with your homework. I don't understand it.

Kenneth Vogt: Yeah, you know that was when I was.

Kenneth Vogt: you know, 13 years old.

Kenneth Vogt: Yeah, I see what what it's like now for somebody who's now 23 or 24. Now. They they can't even talk to their their favorite people in the world, and you know, unless they're their friends in the same field, you know.

Kenneth Vogt: So every every little thing that can make that easier.

Kenneth Vogt: You know I, if you can go home and say, look at this beautiful thing as I saw today.

Kenneth Vogt: I remember going home. Yeah, I'm: a computer programmer from way back. I've

Kenneth Vogt: I remember going home to tell my wife I wrote this really great algorithm today.

Kenneth Vogt: and fortunately she was willing to sit through that.

Kenneth Vogt: And okay, tell me about it. We didn't understand, you know. And finally, it's like, you know what i'm just pestering you. I got to find a better way to tell you what I do.

Kenneth Vogt: And

Kenneth Vogt: so then it moved into Well, here's the impact. Here's why that's that's good. Why, it's

Kenneth Vogt: great that this is this is finished and being used, and it's it's made it into this product there into this service.

Kenneth Vogt: Yeah so the same thing happens in science is, and people doing biology, and especially if they're doing basic research. And then I say, basic, I don't mean like symbol. I mean fundamental research that

Kenneth Vogt: people don't see it at at the drugstore people. Don't see it at the grocery store.

Kenneth Vogt: but it impacts that those areas. You know it. It touches

Kenneth Vogt: it touches the world that we live in.

Kenneth Vogt: Hmm. It's just it. It touched it several steps before you know we encountered. Yeah, yeah, that's right. You know, I think, communicating the video, that kind of work is really important. I think I think learning how to.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: I mean. Certainly for a lot of scientists. We find that that sense of wow I I I experience, I think beautiful is a motivator for teaching. It's a motivator for reproducing the scientific community, because you do want people who can, who can appreciate exactly

Brandon Vaidyanathan: what you found beautiful and and and you know.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and you may not be able to share with your spouse to that degree. But but but then also, I think, communicating to the public is really important, even if, for you know very pragmatic reasons, which is, if you want there to be more funding for basic science, it's important for the public to understand why that's valuable, even if there's not any kind of immediate utility.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Who knows what you know? The implications might be down the road? But then there's also look at the understanding we gain into how reality works, and that's valuable for its own sake.

Kenneth Vogt: Great? Well, so something you said earlier, that kind of caught my ear

Kenneth Vogt: was the notion that all this you know, the large head around Collider. All it's done is validate some past theories so.

Kenneth Vogt: But isn't that important validation is important, and we talk about validation in in the social world, you know. I want to be validated. Well, so do they. But there it's it's more. It's actually more valuable because now we're validating that something is true.

Kenneth Vogt: and a lot of validation in the social world is just. I validate that coming from your perspective, that probably looks right. Yeah, that's not so strong, you know.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: Yeah, I think it seems like it's a bit more of a question of like, how much should we dedicate right? I mean, I think that's where, with limited resources, how how valuable are those insights! And

Brandon Vaidyanathan: and I realized those are, you know, hotly disputed questions. But but I think we shouldn't we should. We shouldn't neglect this kind of the the fundamental research.

Kenneth Vogt: Well, yeah, yeah, definitely.

Kenneth Vogt: And

Kenneth Vogt: I think it is being supported. So that part's good. It's not like. I mean, there's there have been times and like. Nothing could get support that was valuable.

Kenneth Vogt: We're not really living in that world. It yeah.

Kenneth Vogt: it it comes down to communication, though, too, you know.

Kenneth Vogt: Maybe it's just how you write your grant matters, you know, and that's part of part of your career path something you need to get good at great.

Kenneth Vogt: That's true for a lot of scientists in a lot of different areas.

Kenneth Vogt: and and it crosses over, and there can be.

Kenneth Vogt: We can learn from from adjacent industries or adjacent disciplines. If you found something that's working. Maybe a biologist can use it, or physicists can use it.

Kenneth Vogt: and and and they could go in the other direction, too.

Kenneth Vogt: So and in industry there's plenty of things that have been

Kenneth Vogt: already done in industry. They have been proven to work that I'm. Sometimes amazed how

Kenneth Vogt: how naive some scientific version organizations can be even companies.

Kenneth Vogt: The the commercial side is like all that's just commercial. It's like You're just You're just a sociologist. No, he's a Phd, you know. Get it straight. This is this is a a deep discipline, and it's got high value.

Kenneth Vogt: and and we can learn from it so.

Kenneth Vogt: But I will.

Kenneth Vogt: I will ask you now, is there anything else you'd like to add, because I I I loved everything I heard today, so it's really useful. But there may be something I didn't didn't think to ask you about what do you have to say? Yeah, no. I don't think so. I think we covered yeah a lot of the the heart of the work we've done. So yeah, I I would really welcome any feedback on this project. You know anything that that struck your listeners. I'd love to hear from you all.

Brandon Vaidyanathan: And yeah, any ideas for for what you know how this might be

Brandon Vaidyanathan: either expanded or or or the use it might have, or scientists, you know, kind of. If If more scientists would like to hear

Brandon Vaidyanathan: you about this, we would be happy to share our work.

Kenneth Vogt: sure. But I love the application of

Kenneth Vogt: Victor Frankel to to meaning in science. So mankind and search for a meeting is ongoing. Right?

Kenneth Vogt: Yeah, all right. Well, very good. Well, thank you so much for joining us today and everybody. If you if you want to talk to to Brandon, you you'll have the contact information. There'll be more to learn and listen to his podcast definitely. Look at the website.

Kenneth Vogt: I think you'll find it quite fascinating.

Kenneth Vogt: So on that note we will sign off now on this episode of the happy scientist.

Creators and Guests

Dr. Brandon Vaidyanathan
Dr. Brandon Vaidyanathan
Associate Professor, The Catholic University of America
Work and Well-Being in Science