I love “The Bachelor.” Most of my Instagram feed is posts from “Bachelor” alums (and therefore ads for Sugar Bear hair vitamins) and I can rattle off my personal ranking of best to worst bachelors without hesitation (best: Sean Lowe, worst: Ari Luyendyk and do not challenge me on this). Watching the show every Monday night with my college housemates became a cherished tradition that brought us together and offered a welcome respite amidst our busy schedules.
But while being a member of “Bachelor Nation” was not at all uncommon at my undergraduate institution in California, I doubted that this interest of mine would be as readily accepted when I began pursuing a PhD in chemistry at one of the US’ top programs. I assumed that serious scientists would sooner pour trifluoroacetic acid on their hand than endure two hours of cocktail parties and rose ceremonies.
In order fit the mold of “serious scientist” myself, I watched the show in the privacy of my apartment, my cat the only witness. That is, until one day, when I overheard one of my lab-mates ask another, “Did you watch last night?” The other replied, “Yes! I cannot believe Krystal got sent home!” It seemed an unlikely coincidence that there was some sort of science competition series featuring a woman named Krystal who also got eliminated that very same week, so I dared to ask, “Wait… do you guys watch ‘The Bachelor’?” Their faces lit up in response.
Since that moment, we have held watch parties for the premiere and finale of every season, spent many Tuesday mornings debriefing the previous night’s episode, and even crossed state lines to attend an exercise class taught by one of our favorite contestants (if you’re reading, Peter K., I’m the one who face-planted on the treadmill and please note that it was an intentional move to get your attention and not a very embarrassing accident). Once again, the show served as a means of bonding, even in this new environment.
As I got to know my colleagues better through these “Bachelor”-related activities and conversations, I became more comfortable talking to them about my research. As more experienced students, they offered me valuable insights on my project and took the time to teach me new experimental techniques. As it turns out, the thing I thought would cause me to be overlooked and underestimated as a graduate student has, in fact, helped me to succeed in this role.
I realize now that by assuming that this hobby of mine would be mocked, I was shoving my colleagues into the same restrictive, stereotypical box labeled “scientist” that I’ve struggled to fit into my entire life. I was content to tell myself that I was a unique, multifaceted individual with diverse interests spanning chemistry and reality TV, but didn’t consider that the same is true for every scientist, even if they aren’t completely transparent about it. With this in mind, we should not worry that the specifics (or even the existence) of our hobbies and passions outside of science will affect other people’s perception of our scientific ability. Being a PhD student and being a fan of “The Bachelor” shouldn’t be mutually exclusive – after all, they’re both just lessons in chemistry.