Christopher felt it an honor to have been selected to work with Dr. Baxendale as a lab assistant. Dr. Baxendale, an accomplished scientist and researcher, was always driven by curiosity and constantly came up with new hypotheses to test. She seemed to have a knack for asking the questions that led to deeper insight.
After they had worked together for about two years, however, Christopher became concerned with Dr. Baxendale’s newest theories. He could see that pursuing them would take their experiments and research in a direction that at the very least skirted the edges of a century of accepted science. It might quite possibly break those boundaries. Christopher feared that their experiments and their findings would be unpopular with the broader scientific community, and his association with and participation in them could bring long-term, negative repercussions for his career.
At first, it was only Christopher’s peers asking over lunch about what he was working on. His face burning, Christopher avoided specifics. But he noticed the looks they gave each other. Word started getting around about the compounds and other supplies that Dr. Baxendale was ordering. Christopher had to face more pointed questions and found himself dodging and getting defensive. Unconsciously, he started looking more closely at announcements of other research opportunities.
Following months of testing Dr. Baxendale’s hypotheses, tracking their findings, and writing a paper, they were ready to make a presentation at a conference. Rumors had been circulating, building interest and anticipation. So many people signed up for their session that the conference organizers had to schedule the largest room.
Christopher arrived at the appointed room early to make sure everything was in place. His hands shook, and his stomach roiled. As he prepared for the session, attendees began to come in, and some started asking him questions. He got carried away, and before he knew it, he was standing in front of the microphone, detailing everything he thought was deficient about their research and why he thought their results didn’t hold up against accepted scientific fact. He felt embarrassed to be there at all.
Suddenly, he choked on his words. Dr. Baxendale stood against the back doorway with her arms folded and her face unreadable.
“We’re past time to start,” Christopher stammered. “Dr. Baxendale is here.” He stepped back from the microphone, extended one hand toward her, and then clapped softly a few times. The scientist came to the front of the room amid scattered, half-hearted applause and audible whispering.
When she came to the microphone, Dr. Baxendale said, “My assistant has been clear about all the reasons there are to doubt this research and our findings. But the reasons to accept our results and continue this line of research are more compelling.” And she went on to give her presentation, though she skipped the part about the limitations. Christopher knew that was because he had taken care of that for her—and then some. Suddenly the room felt hot and stuffy.
When the presentation was over, Dr. Baxendale took some questions, and then she headed for the side door. Christopher fell in beside her, but she barely glanced at him. He wasn’t sure what to say, so he said nothing.
As they walked down a narrow hallway in the convention center, she asked, “Christopher. Do you believe in what we’ve been doing?”
Caught off guard, Christopher said, “Well … yes … I wouldn’t have gone this far if I didn’t.”
“Yet you stood there in front of my peers and undermined it all. It’s already a challenge to convince them to hear me out. I didn’t need the preamble to be a list of all the reasons they shouldn’t give me the time of day.”
She stopped and turned; Christopher halted as well. “If you think I’m on the wrong track, then you are welcome to choose a different one. You’ve done a lot of great work, but I need people on my team who are committed to going to the end of the road and haven’t prejudged the outcomes.
“If you would rather seek opportunities with other research teams,” she continued, leaning closer, “I won’t blame you for that. I feel like shame was brought to my name and everything we’ve done today. But what is just as bad is I can tell you feel ashamed to be associated with it. With me.”
She settled back against the wall and exhaled. “If that’s how you feel, I can remove your name in the final publication of our work. I’ll give you some time to think about it, but I’d like to have your answer within a week about whether you are sticking with us.” With that, Dr. Baxendale turned and left Christopher standing there.
Over the next several days, Christopher considered his feelings and his options. On the last day of the week that Dr. Baxendale had given him, he made his decision.
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