Friday, November 12, 2010

Dogs in Hats, Ticks, and Tee-Shirts

Several years ago, when a local bookstore was going out of business, I looked at the shelves to see what I might like to buy during the final sale days. There were three shelves of guide books, and I hoped to buy several "Golden Guides to [Insects, Mammals, Fish, Reptiles, Spiders, etc.]" for budding scientists among family and friends. Alas, I waited too long, and when I finally got back to the store the shelves were empty except for one lone, rather slim book: "A Field Guide to Ticks." After a moment of distress that I had failed Shopping 101, I picked up the book, paid for it at the register, and took it home. While i haven't consulted it too often, I do like to display it prominently on the living room bookshelf. In fact, I have brought several additional copies and given them as Christmas presents to friends with particularly tick-infested gardens and woods.

About fifteen years ago I drew a tee shirt for our Women n Science Program. There was a dog with a hat as the center piece, and with a nod to the multitude of biologists among us, the dog peers into a microscope at some unformed mass on the stage. The shirts went like the proverbial hot cakes, and gradually mine became thin and ragged and positively indecent to wear.

Time passed. On the occasion of a friend's retirement two years ago, I decided to reprint the shirts. The design, dog and hat stayed intact, but the second edition shirt places a tick on the microscope stage. What better research endeavor for a young dog scientist than to study ticks - and maybe provide some insight into how to thwart their efforts to creep out the world.

After the new shirts were printed and publicly presented to the retiring and slightly dazed colleague, I heard this story of what happened to one of our graduates during his time in graduate school out in LA.

One sunny morning, while riding the bus to his lab and planning his experiments for the day, his thoughts were interrupted when another rider started to ream him out because she objected to a woman in science being represented by a dog. And, a dog with a hat! After a few minutes of being the object of this public spectacle, he fled the bus. He mentioned this incident to his faculty mentor back home, who, the story goes, knew about "the problem," and that was why he had decided years previously to give his shirt away to a one of his students.

I love the shirt. Most people do. But now I am over-sensitized about the picture, and I honestly do not know what to do with eighteen new, lovely, women in science tee shirts, complete with dog, hat, microscope, and anatomically correct tick (using, of course, my trusty field guide to provide an up close and personal model of a tick).

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