Wednesday, 19 January 2011
***Update: I stand corrected!***
I neglected to mention trichology which is the study of hair. I think the reason why I forgot to mention it is because I am often asked this question in line with University study. Technically anyone can set up shop and call themselves a trichologist. There are certified courses available (UK and US) which are organised by professional institutes keen to have a standard of practice. However, it is not a degree course. It is a certification course allowing you to register and be seen legitimately as having undertaken work to understand hair.
**My original response is below (unedited)**
Strictly speaking, there really isn't a profession such as a 'hair scientist'. Although hair is hugely fascinating it is not generally studied on its own. Career wise there are plenty of avenues that can lead you to studying hair.
1. Material Science - I am biased since this is my training! It involves studying how materials behave when subjected to chemical treatment, physical forces or environment. Hair is one of these materials.
2. Chemistry - A large proportion (if not the largest) of scientists publishing studies on hair are chemists. Formulation is something I talk about quite often. This is the chemists' greatest contribution. It means you need to understand how much of each ingredient to add and in which order. Small variations (as little as 1%) can drastically change how a product behaves.
3. Medicine (specifically dermatology) - One of the most formidable scientists publishing work specifically on African hair is South African Nonhlanhla Khumalo. She is a dermatologist and this specific area leads you to study healthy and non healthy hair (after all the scalp is skin and hair is part of the scalp).
4. Physics - Many instruments used in the study of hair are based on physical principles. An understanding of physics is essential.
These are not the only routes but are the main routes. I would end finally by saying if you want to be able to understand research or be a research scientist, you should consider doing a PhD. A PhD is a true baptism by fire. You will do the most perfect experiment only to be asked to repeat it 10 times. You will be criticised and learn how to self criticise. You will learn how to defend your work and how to think on your feet. You will learn that science is changeable, there are no fixed truths or answers. Anything can be changed with sufficient proof. In other words a PhD teaches you how to see evidence, the importance of sources and how to be impartial when reading research.
Most universities have a career office, take the opportunity to go in there early (like 2-3 years before you want to go to a particular institution) and someone will guide you through the learning programmes available. Always have 2-3 options, don't stick with one.