For those of you that know me, you may have noticed that I don't really like talking about my job. This is mostly because, and I'm not trying to sound arrogant, the average person doesn't have a clue what a biochemist does or even what laboratory research means, nor do they seem to care after being given a quick synopsis. Additionally, there is a certain degree of secrecy that goes along with doing primary research. In some regards, scientists are trained to be quiet in talking about specific projects for fear of having ideas taken by colleagues or peers. In most cases, this is irrational, but there is a certain amount of discretion that must be used at all times. Some laboratories are more competitive than others, but free flowing information is extremely rare.
A great majority of my friends and acquaintances aren't associated with science. There is a good reason for this - scientists tend to be ass holes. I will say that I have been quite lucky in being placed with people that have been fantastic. The rule of thumb does hold, I just consider myself to have been lucky... so far. So, should I be worried about talking about my job with friends outside of science? The answer is clearly no. But, how much information am I supposed to give? My current approach is to start with an incredibly basic response and then if whoever I'm talking to seems interested then go more in depth. I have made the mistake of going too deep early in a conversation in the past, it gets pretty awkward, so I usually start very small. This has been working, so I'm going to stick with this method until I come up with something better.
At one point in graduate school I actually boiled down what I was doing to mixing multiple colorless liquids together in a plastic tube, then placing it into a machine and watching a computer monitor for a small line to be drawn as time progressed. After this, I would remove the tube and continue with the next sample and repeat for an afternoon. Obviously, there's much more to being a biochemist, but after many long days of enzyme kinetics, this is how it feels. In actuality, Being a scientist comes down to asking a question, doing an experiment that should answer the question, then figuring out why the experiment didn't work, then doing it again with different conditions until it does work, then verifying that it will continue to work by repeating it over and over, then you can develop the next question to continue the cycle. It's kind of like banging your head against a wall until something happens. That's science and it's what I do.