This unexpected recognition set me thinking: might the reach of my columns be greater than the reach of my scientific publications? On campus, definitely, it seems. The realisation that people might see me more as a columnist than as a scientist touched a nerve, because I did not square with how I saw myself.

I am a scientist who writes columns, not a columnist who does science. Scientists and columnists are both writers, analysts and researchers, but the objectives and methods of scientists and columnists are clearly different. As a scientist, I strive for objectivity and the expansion of knowledge, whereas as a columnist, I share my subjective experiences and try to persuade.

The longer I think about it, the more questions emerge. Who am I? And how do other people see me? Columnist or scientist: my identity seems to be different all the time, depending on where I am and what role I am fulfilling at any given moment. Nevertheless, who I am is in essence the same, because my standards, values and thoughts do not depend on my role; and what I write in my columns is also often informed by scientific knowledge or an analytical approach.

So, while I continue to consider who I am in the various roles I fulfil, I recognise that my identity cannot be pigeonholed. My identity is dynamic and stable at the same time. As a scientist and columnist, I am constantly growing and learning, but at the same time there is a constant foundation on which I build. Identity is a fascinating fusion of different roles and personal facets that depends on your stage of life (time) and social environment (place). I embrace my identity; it is like a multicoloured mosaic, and it is in that variety that I thrive. So, columnist or scientist? I don’t have to choose, I am many things.

Hanan El Marroun is a professor of biological psychology.

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