I will be attending an international conference next week, where I will be presenting an invited talk. Nothing earth-shattering about it; as I am a scientist by profession, I am expected to attend scientific conferences to network with other nerds fellow colleagues and present my bit of knowledge, and whether the said knowledge will have a measurable impact on the society at large, well, who’s to judge? While this activity in itself is not necessarily an accomplishment, it will be summarily included as an additional entry in my CV.

A Highfalutin Title with Ambiguous Results,” Presented at the International Conference of My Field, known only to those in the field, unknown to the rest of the world.

In this particular conference, there will be plenary talks to be delivered by Nobel laureates and other academic luminaries who in one way or the other have made this world a better place through their relentless pursuit of knowledge. As to be expected, their brief bios are mind-blowing: 500+ or 1000+ papers published, held various positions so-and-so, and multiple awards from award-giving bodies which I am mostly unfamiliar with (and this is obviously because I am not from that class of scientists).

Which got me into thinking, I can only consider a handful of people I know who I would consider as scientific “celebrities” of sorts. Myself, and indeed most of the people I meet and interact with at conferences have accomplishments which are nowhere near those of the plenary speakers.

We’re the mediocre scientists. We publish, attend conferences, apply for grants, churn out a string of reports to justify the use of public money. If we get lucky, perhaps one of us may even stumble upon a major discovery that will actually change the world.

One of the pitfalls in the academia today is evaluating how good scientists are by the number of their publications, how high the “impact factor” of the journals they get published in. I don’t think it’s that easy to evaluate the quality of science; I think the ultimate test is how our lives and those around us can be changed for the better through science.

We can’t all be celebrity scientists, but I would like to believe that we all share the same goal.