Impulsive Inquiry

uncontrolled questioning of the world I perceive.

Owning my job title or ‘Toy Waver’ is not a dirty word

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For nearly two years I have had the amazing opportunity to work as a research assistant at one of the preeminent developmental neurolinguistic laboratories in the world.  This job has meant working at the cutting edge of science, working on projects that will have a lasting impact on what the rest of the world knows about the developing brain and using the newest technology and techniques for data collection.

It also means that most people have absolutely no idea what I do for a living.

Usually when answering the question “so, what do you do?” the conversation goes one of two ways:

Conversation A

Me: “I am working as a research assistant at a developmental neurolinguistics lab.”

Other Person: “Ahhh. A research assistant. That is interesting. What exactly do you do?”

Me: “Well, we use EEG, MEG and MRI technology to look at how babies process different components of language.”

Other Person: “mmmhhmmm. Well that sounds very nice. What are some specific things you do?”

Me: “Well, I am called a toy waver *the rest of what I say is completely ignored by the other person*”

Conversation B

Me: “I am working as a research assistant at a developmental neurolinguistics lab.”

Other Person: “Huh?”

Me: “I put babies in magnets and look at their brains. I am called a toy waver. Specifically *the rest of what I say is completely ignored by the other person*”

As shown, the outcome of either conversation is the same. And it proceeds thusly:

Me: “Toy Waver”

Other Person: “So you play with toys for a living? That sounds fun! You are so lucky!”

Me: “Well actually, *the rest of what I say is completely ignored by the other person*”

This has led to my rejection of the title ‘Toy Waver.’ Instead I insist that I am a RESEARCH ASSISTANT doing SCIENCE. I do not “play with toys” I HAVE A VERY CHALLENGING AND PROFESSIONAL JOB! I mean it. I do! And toy waving is only one part of my job. I do many, many, MANY other things in the lab. Important, sciencey things. Things that have NOTHING TO DO WITH TOYS!

But recently I have come to realize that people do not denigrate my position out of malice, but out of ignorance. Even within my lab the only people who truly understand are other toy wavers. People who have been there. Who have been drooled on. Which means that out of the total population of the world there are nine people who understand my job.


In the entire world (as far as I know).

In recognition of this, I am going educate rather than lash out. I will replace shame with pride. I will reclaim being a ‘Toy Waver” with my head high.

Here it goes.

A (very, very) brief explanation of what it means to be a ‘Toy waver.’

  • I do not play with toys all day.
  • Toy waving is technically called ‘running subjects for very important science
  • We spend a HUGE amount of time training before we are allowed to run actual subjects. Usually we have to run about 30 subjects before getting the all clear and we still don’t know what we are doing.
  • It is my job to keep a baby (yes a real baby) from getting upset while strangers move them around, restrict their movement and touch them on the head.
  • This is hugely complicated and usually involves the use of diplomatic techniques that the UN would be jealous of.
  • Sometimes it also involves bribery in the form of the ever-coveted cheerio.
  • When the baby moves to the machine itself It is my job to simultaneously navigate them into the right position, keep them distracted from the machine and make sure their parent is in the right place.
  • I then have to keep the baby (who is in a highchair-like seat with their head movement restricted) distracted, quiet and STILL. For 15-18 minutes.
  • By distracted I mean not happy but not sad. Happy is as bad as fussy because both lead to movement which is to be prohibited at all costs. If something stops a baby’s fussing but makes it laugh, I have to move to the next toy. It is a delicate balance of interesting and bland. A true art.
  • Without talking. For real. Absolute Silence.

And that my readers, is an incredibly generalized, very short, quick and dirty description of toy waving. Much like the stay at home parent’s reaction when someone says “you are so lucky you don’t have to work,” when I hear “you are so lucky you just get to play with toys all day” I am hoping that when I *facepalm*  it is my face that the palm hits, and not theirs.


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