Hello there bloggies! Welcome to Science Sunday!
For those of you who aren’t in the UK or aren’t completely obsessed with tennis (I listen to tennis on the radio as I work…who does that?), this past week saw the start of Wimbledon, probably the biggest tennis tournament of the year. Since I have been listening to tennis online as I do my research, I have found myself thinking about science and tennis at the same time. Some times in my head, the science and the tennis have merged. It has made me realize that tennis and Wimbledon specifically are not that different from doing scientific research.
A tennis player must make it through 7 grueling matches to reach his/her ultimate goal of winning Wimbledon. Each match requires considerable time, effort, and preparation as well as presents unique challenges that the player must work out how to overcome. Does that sound familiar to any of the scientists in the room? It should! Each paper, project, or dissertation is made up of several uniquely challenging experiments that the research team must overcome. These experiments aren’t performed just once; they must be optimized and replicated. Only once researchers make it through these experiments (or opponents) can they reach their goal of publishing, moving a project forward, or graduating.
When you watch such a big tournament like Wimbledon, you appreciate how many different strategies players use to try to win a match. Some players camp out on the baseline trying to blast winners. Others serve and volley as they try to be as aggressive as possible (though not as often as in years past). Then, there are those they use their speed and fitness to wear down their opponents. In science, it’s exactly the same way. There are so many different approaches to scientific questions. Some rely on genetic tools, others biochemical or biophysical. There are in vivo and in vitro systems, and oh so many different technologies to measure whatever scientific phenomena being studied. No scientist approaches a question the same, just like no tennis player plays exactly the same.
Now we’ve talked about the tennis players and researchers, but what about the people that keep the athletics in line: the chair umpire and lines people (see what I did there :P). These officials are tasked with determining whether shots are in or out, keeping track of scoring, and making sure the athletes are playing within the rules. Reviewers and journal editors are the chair umpires and lines people of the research world. They determine whether the researchers’ methods and conclusions are in line with data presented, coordinate whether manuscripts should be published, and make sure nothing inappropriate like plagiarism/data manipulation has occurred. Not only that, sometimes the chair umpires, lines people, editors, and reviewers in our lives make ridiculous decisions that leave us fuming! Just ask Serena, Caroline, and McEnroe!
Tennis and science in decades past used to be endeavors for Europe, North America, and Australia. Countries like the UK, USA, Sweden, France, Spain, and Germany (among others) dominated both the science and tennis worlds. While these countries still are major forces, both are becoming increasingly international in nature. Researchers and tennis players from all over the world are making their mark and will continue to do so in future.
Wimbledon is known for its traditions. All of the players wear white, every eats strawberries & cream, there are no matches held on Middle Sunday (which is today), and there is a royal box just for the British royalty (especially Camilla) and their guests. It is this tradition that makes Wimbledon just an important place for tennis. Changes to these traditions are frequently resisted. It took Wimbledon decades of experiencing loads of wet British days to build a roof. Not only that, but it is only recently that they stopped forcing players to bow/curtsy to the royal box. Science can also be a land of traditions. We love a hypothesis and it can be hard for us to accept results that go against accepted beliefs. Plus, training of scientists today is quite similar to the strategies used decades ago although situations have changed. The redeeming part is that although both can be quite resistance to change eventually both make their way (sometimes stumbling a bit) in the right direction.
Thank you for stopping by this tennis themed Science Sunday! Do you see any parallels between your hobbies and scientific research? Tell me about them below in the comments or on twitter @DrFsThoughts.
Enjoy your Middle Sunday! See you later!
PS Go Andy Murray and Roger Federer! For the ladies, let’s go Wozniacki and Venus!