The most important lesson

ZapperZ tells about the most important thing that he has learnt, and how this information comes as a surprise to many students:

But is that the most important thing that I’ve learned in becoming a scientist? When students asked me that question, they often expect that I would say that learning quantum mechanics, or electromagnetism, etc. would be the most important thing. So it comes as a surprise to many when I told them what I believe is the most important thing that I learned in becoming a scientist: Learning To Learn!

One of the things about being a scientist is that we always have to learn new things all the time! There’s always something that we haven’t heard of, something that is new, something we have never quite fully understand, or something puzzling. You are always faced with tying to find out about something. What we have acquired along the way, starting from undergraduate years to graduate school to postdoctoral work, and even through our early careers, is the ability and skill to learn. I’m not just talking about reading a book or paper and trying to understand something. I’m talking about knowing WHERE to look, WHO to ask, WHAT do I need to do to understand that, HOW do *I* understand something? We all work in different ways. Knowing how I, personally, comprehend something is very important, because I have consciously tried to discover when I can make something click in my head, and when it can’t. How the material is presented, how I organize my thoughts in my head, how I work things out on paper, etc. are all my own personal preferences and skills that I know help me to understand something. In other words, at some level, I know what makes me tick and how I can grasp something. To me, this is the most valuable and important thing I learned in becoming a scientist.

A nice piece!

One Response to “The most important lesson”

  1. gaddeswarup Says:

    Guru,
    I am not too sure about the post you mentioned. I have seen some mathematicians who learnt too much and got burned. If the orienation is towards producing new results ( I do think that learning for its own sake is perfectly acceptable), it did not work out. The author in an earlier post makes some distinction between interesting stuff and important stuff. I think that it all depends on one’s goals. I am interested in learning for its own sake and for me research is a way of making a living. For many the goal is different. What works for any one is anybody’s guess. Sometimes learning worked for me to put two and two together in different areas. For many after learning some stadard stuff, working on problems and learning as they go along; it is usually easier to learn new stuff if it seems useful to problems one is working on, seems to work. But I do not think that there are any clear cut rules.

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