Talk to Your Family

family photo

Mariëlle (right) with her family at the airport.

If you are like me, you are the sole biologist in a family of non-science people. Actually, in my case, that’s an exaggeration; I am married to a biology professor who is known as the Scorpion Man in these parts. But outside of our “nerd marriage,” the rest of the family does not necessarily share our passion for all things biological.

We recently enjoyed a visit from two family members, an interior designer and her husband (an architect). Although they are not biologists, they are curious about people and the natural world. During their visit, our family conversations covered artificial insemination, a potential new treatment for HIV, a debate about whether breast enhancement surgery is false advertising (from a mate attraction/natural selection perspective), the genetic basis of homosexuality in males and females, whether estrogen replacement therapy causes cancer, whether our electric utility’s new Smart Meters cause cancer, and whether this or that food is good for you.

I enjoy these conversations for two reasons. First, they are topics that interest me and about which I know at least a little. Second, and more importantly, I can file the topics away in my mental folder labeled “Stuff that interests nonbiologists.” Later this semester, I can sprinkle some of these examples into my class sessions, knowing that there’s a good chance that at least some of my students will perk up and say, “Oh! I always wanted to know about that!” And if you are like me, that is one of the greatest rewards of teaching in the nonmajors classroom.

I would love to learn more about the subjects that other instructors transfer from the dinner table to the classroom. Please feel free to share how and when you talk biology with your family.

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