I am 22 years old and when I tell my peers that I study Pharmacology common responses include: ‘So does that mean you can prescribe me drugs?’; ‘Can I be your guinea pig?’ and my favourite, ‘Oh you must love taking drugs!’. This misconception works in my favour at times, when suddenly I become viewed as the ‘cool kid on the block’ rather than the geek who studies molecular biology.
Most of the time I try hard to explain the truth behind Pharmacology – I explain that it is the understanding of cellular signalling cascades and receptors (huh?). That this is necessary for target validation (right…). I explain that drug development comes after (passive uh-huh). And that further along are the clinical trials themselves, commonly unsuccessful. And only then are drugs prescribed, and only by medical doctors and not researchers (silence). By this point I have been talking too long, my audience is long bored and the conversation has run dry. Next time this happens, I do not say a word but laugh awkwardly creating my personal misconception of myself – the drug-lover, drug-giver.
Then there are those moments where I relish sharing what [little] knowledge I do have. I once tried to explain DNA transcription and translation to my mother (i.e. how DNA encodes for proteins, and how these are, in turn, synthesized when needed). We were sat for a long time, and I was scribbling away on pieces of paper, my mum was nodding away, asking all sorts of questions, wholeheartedly trying to understand. I later overheard her talking to a friend: ‘Do you know how nice it was – my daughter was just talking and talking and I understood nothing! She knows all this stuff that I don’t!’. A week after I was explaining the same to my dad, sat outside a café on Haight St. in San Francisco, I found ‘DNA for Dummies’ in his bathroom. He explained that it was important to him to learn more about what his daughter is studying. Other times I realise that boys find it quite sexy when I’m talking neuroscience or pharmacology jargon. They listen and listen and then when I’m done – ‘you’re just too adorable when you talk science’. And then of course, there are the times when I am talking to other Pharmacology-lovers – drug developers, professors, students. We bounce off each other or I learn new concepts. At those moments I grasp full-on the potential of pharmacology to progress medicine. I am just a student, yet to help decipher the unknowns in biology but these conversations provide huge motivation to build a career in this field.