The Futures story 'When Britney Spears comes to my lab' (Nature 451, 106; 2008) was written tongue in cheek, but I am disappointed that Nature published it. Those of us who have decided “to put in more hours at the lab for the same reason all good scientists do” will resent being compared to even a fictional Ms Spears. Your article pokes fun at the pop singer, but it also indirectly undermines the dedication of real young women starting out on a research career.
The satirical Spears is helped in her scholarly endeavours by her pop-singer's salary, which exceeds that of a real graduate student by several orders of magnitude. Those who, like Spears, are parents must struggle on their stipends and balance the demands of scientific research with those of their children — not a problem for the wealthy Spears of academic fantasy.
Her frivolous appearance is also caricatured in the laboratory setting, reflecting an attitude that can still influence how women scientists dress. She also seems untroubled by the prospect of a fight for a place in the sciences. But that requires more than just inspiration: add quantities of caffeine, a fear of failure and years of hard work and personal sacrifice. I have yet to embark on the next step after graduate school, but I can only hope to have a fraction of the impact on society that the Dr Spears of Futures has on diabetes. I'll try to work harder.
I do agree, though, that we must find more ways to inspire upcoming generations to pursue endeavours that will benefit humanity, instead of glorifying reality television and tabloid superstardom.
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Hubbard, S. Future stars of the lab need realistic role models. Nature 451, 768 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1038/451768d