The Gentleman Scientist

I recently received my annual donation call from the University. 1 The pleasant man on the line asked the routine demographic information that they always do. Was I using my degree in a relevant field? Yes. Still Gentleman Scientist at Tenjin? Yes again. Then he broke script and asked what a lot of people ask when they see my business card or email signature:

Why ‘Gentleman Scientist’?

I gave him the Simple Answer: I had the opportunity to have fun with it, so why not? It does convey a little bit of the whimsy that colours the humour of Jason and I. I guess that’s a good enough reason for most people.

Really, though, business titles are often meaningless, 2 frivolous nonsense and egotism. 3 I’d rather have a title that describes me as a person, rather than be a vague description of my position that only has meaning within that organization 4 and makes me feel important.

But whimsy and a mild contrarianism is just the Simple Answer. On a deeper level, I appreciate its simple utility and its personal resonance. Functionally, it sallies forth a few facts:

  1. Robin Miller is male
  2. Robin Miller is a gentleman
  3. Robin Miller is a scientist

Fact One is handy to have as a baseline for communication, especially since my name is unisex and English doesn’t handle gender neutrality very well. 5 Further, this gender confusion has a) accidentally gotten me into a limited-space course because the instructor thought I was female, 6 and b) confused another instructor as to who I was. I don’t like leaving people confused, so I appreciate that it clarifies and instructs. The reader is empowered to use the appropriate pronouns with confidence.

Facts Two and Three are where we get into roots into my life and personality. In truth, it was my friend Kaylee who bestowed me the title of gentleman. I have a penchant for opening doors for people, men and women, friends and foes alike. To this she would often respond with a bemused “You’re such a gentleman.” Later, when she printed business cards for herself, she got me a stack of joke cards that read simply:

Robin Miller - Gentleman

I admit, it was absolutely a lot of fun to hand these out.

I embraced the title, though for different reasons than you may think. When “gentleman” is uttered, a lot of people think of some grey haired, stodgy, blue blooded Victorian in a waistcoat, but that’s just a caricature. I think Kaylee had it right. A gentleman is not defined by his clothing or genealogy, he is defined by his actions. Therefore, a gentleman in the modern age is not a status, but instead is an ethical code. It is an ideal to strive for, to be gentle and a man. A gentleman is compassionate and empathetic. A gentleman creates cooperation, peace and civility. A gentleman uses violence as a last resort. He is respectful, and is aware that others have positions and experiences different to his own. He participates in debates and discussions with the knowledge that he does not know everything.

It dovetails nicely with my other core identity, scientist. I am, by education, a scientist, of course – it says so on my degree. However, I know comparatively little in the way of physics, less of chemistry, next to nothing about biology, and my knowledge of geology is rocky at best. 7 Mathematics and statistics bore me, and my dilettante knowledge of the physical sciences is little to write home about. So why do I claim to be a scientist?

I call myself a scientist because science is not beakers and equations. Science a mindset. A scientist does not think in absolutes. A scientist is capable of and, obligated to change her or his viewpoint when sufficient evidence supports a particular hypothesis. The motto of a scientist is “let’s find out,” and not “because I said so”.

Together they are both a descriptor of who I am and a pair of core ideals that I strive for daily. I’ve taken it as my moniker as a reminder to myself of who I want to be, and what I represent. I fall short at times, of course. I’m certain that if you spend just a day with me, you’ll be able to spot at least one instance where I’ve failed to live up to my ideals. But I am, after all, only human, 8 so I hope that you will forgive me. I will try again, and I hope to do better each time.

I am Robin Miller, Gentleman Scientist. With your leave, I’ll try my best to live up to it.

Notes:

  1. Haha, no. Not yet by a long shot. Try me again after I’ve billionated or something.
  2. I once saw a Chief Knowledge Officer. What does that even mean? That your job is just to know things?
  3. Said the man writing a blog post about himself. I claim sanctuary in the original setup: that this is a common question. I am providing a public service by answering it. If my ego is stroked in the process, it’s not entirely my fault.
  4. I do admit that standards like CEO, CTO, COO, and CFO are generally well defined. I rebut that they are, at the least, boring.
  5. Nor do people like being referred to as objects, despite being objects. Not in any sort of dehumanizing sense, that is, it’s just that that people are, in the abstract, things that exist. Don’t try to use this linguistic abstraction on your significant other, though, unless you are prepared to take a thrown pillow to the face.
  6. The instructor had a mandate to encourage diversity. I found out about it after the course was finished.
  7. You’re welcome
  8. And an object