How to recognize a geek

There are occasions when I wonder if I’m cut out for the life in academia I’ve been planning for the last two years. This usually happens when I’m reading a depressing post by the grad student cum blogger extraordinaire Scicurious, or an experiment isn’t working, or I have a flareup of fibromyalgia, or I despise the subject we’re studying **cough**molecular genetics**cough**. But then something happens to bring me back.

This happened last night. I was insomniating, which happens far too often, and I decided I might as well make the skeleton of my research proposal for my molecular ecology class. I kinda hate doing field work in November, so I’m doing some modeling to try to explain the time-dependency of molecular clocks. (If you can’t understand the linked article, don’t worry; it’s not important.) I was looking over the manuals for the programs I’ll be using and papers of previous attempts (failures all) to explain it. As I read and wrote out a tentative procedure, I had this conversation with myself*:

Me 1: This is gonna be so much fun!

Me 2: Dude. We’re going to be staring at a computer for six hours a day.

Me 1: Yeah, but look at this. No one has figured this out, and the math adds up perfectly!

Me 2: A quarter of the day.

Me 1: And maybe we could find a way to correct previous calibrations! It would solve so many evolutionary mysteries.

Me 2: For the next nine weeks.

Me 1: This is real science! Not that crappy cookbook chemistry stuff. Jack Horner, Rosalind Franklin, A. R. Wallace science!

Me 2: Six. Fucking. Hours.

Me 1: Ooh! Bayesian inference! This is so cool!

Me 2: What a loon.

I think I’ll be fine.


I’m literally addicted to information. Oh yeah, it’s possible. I go into withdrawal if I don’t have my laptop or iPhone for more than a day, and I regularly refresh Slate just to see if anything’s been posted in the last five minutes. It’s even worse for really interesting stuff. I’ve used The Sibley Guide to Birds as bedtime reading even when there was perfectly good, unread Asimov sitting on the shelf.

I think this is the sign of a geek. Wikipedia currently has four definitions of “geek” in its article; all but one (which restricts the term to computer wizzes) fit this description. To single-mindedly pursue knowledge is far outside the norm. In grade school it’ll get you called nerd, dweeb, or geek, and in college it’ll get you into grad school.

*In my head, of course. I’m not Gollum.


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