“The famous expression ‘Life Happens!’ has certainly been around awhile. It’s reserved as a sort of colloquialism, describing how someone’s life or life plans are completely upended by circumstances, usually because of seemingly random events. This summer, I’ve been reflecting on how these types of events also seem to occur in science. Science, much like life, seems to kinda happen.
In my experience, most scientists follow surprisingly non-linear pathways through their careers. I can’t recall any scientist that set out with a specific plan and then perfectly executed that plan over a career. I’m sure they exist, but it must be rare. Things happen – you meet people, read interesting new things, change the science, and are changed by the changing science and experiences around you.
It can feel a bit like a ‘random walk’ as described in movement ecology. And if you study a ecosystem or population for a long time, something big is bound to happen, and it will usually be a surprise.