Friends, I have a new favorite TV show. This one has been around for a few years but in keeping with tradition, I’m still miles behind the times. Regardless, if you are also miles behind the times, please start watching The Big Bang Theory with me because it is so, so awesome.
Now, I know how irritating inaccurate portrayals of real-life jobs can be. Don’t even get me started on Bones. Actually, do get me started and I will tell you how you can’t be seven different kinds of Anthropologist all at the same time, especially once you start crossing cultural (cultures and people!) with physical (monkeys and ancient bones!) with forensic anthropology (current, crime-scene bones!). I can’t stand that show. Ahem, anyway, I was worried that The Big Bang Theory would so grossly and inaccurately portray physicists that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. D, who as a Physics graduate student is even more sensitive to this stereotype, pretty much refused to watch it.
While I was visiting my parents over Christmas, my dad convinced me to sit through a few DVR-ed episodes with him, and I instantly fell down the rabbit hole. We plowed through every rerun he had recorded, and I was even able to convince D to watch a few with me. Once he saw the one where Sheldon dresses as the Doppler Effect for Halloween, he had to admit it was pretty funny and also fairly accurate. We’re now working our way through the show via Netflix and both completely love it.
Now, that’s not to say the show doesn’t have a few inaccuracies. Where, exactly do they work? Some university in California somewhere? What are their positions at this university? None of them seem to teach (the most common job in a university setting) but they also don’t necessarily fit into the research scientist mold either (hours and hours in a lab, worrying about government funding all the time, serving on committees, etc). Also, Sheldon has “two PhDs” but he’s a theoretical physicist, which actually only requires one PhD, a PhD in Physics. And they give Howard such a hard time about “only” having a Master’s degree, but for what his job is (something with NASA?) he doesn’t need a PhD. And most people don’t get a PhD in Engineering. You can make enough money with just a Master’s that it doesn’t really make sense to stay in school for a PhD unless you want to teach Engineering instead of being an Engineer. (True story: I have a friend from college--with “only” a Master’s degree--who works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California and was part of the team who put the rover on Mars. Not too shabby for a 20-something with “just” a Master’s degree, hmm?)
But there are a few things that are funnily, scarily accurate. First, the fact that some of the foreign physicists (namely Raj) dress...uniquely. There are a few foreign graduate students in D’s department who completely and wholeheartedly embraced the American leisure culture, and I have literally never seen them wear anything but sweatpants with the names of various brands emblazoned down the pant leg and shower sandals (in the summer) or Ugg boots (in the winter). Seriously, that’s all they wear. Second of all, as the clueless girl in a group usually completely dominated by brilliant guys, I would say that 80-90% of the time I have no idea what they are talking about. They carry on entire conversations in what sounds like another language. The jokes go completely over my head, and when D tries to explain them they’re either 1) still incomprehensible to someone whose understanding of Physics stops at the high school level 2) not funny or 3) both. Third, they are the nicest, kindest, smartest group of guys I have ever met. Ladies, if you want to be happy for the rest of your life, go find yourself a Physicist, no question. Finally, and I say this with nothing but love in my heart, I have found that sometimes, when people are so smart you wonder how their neck holds up their enormous brain day in and day out, they are also a little, er, socially awkward. Not all of them, and not all the time, but the societal implications that come along with being that brilliant are definitely accurately portrayed. Take it from the clueless girl across the hall, you don’t get to be that smart without some kind of tradeoff.