Every now and then we have inspiring conversations and Saturday was just one of those days. Saturday I went to a day school for my degree (being part time we are predominantly evening based) and got to speak at reasonable length with one of the tutors. He himself had previously worked in a number of research posts in universities around the country but now holds a seat on the Commons Select Committee for science as well as tutoring at the Open University – with a particular specialism in Physics – so naturally someone that I was curious to take as much as I could from.
I think there is a boyish impatience inside of me when it comes to making progress in science; which stems from the fact that I arrived at the conclusion to study later than I would of liked so as a result feel compelled to play catch up. Anyhow when I made some enquiries into the best ways you can prepare yourself for scientific study at much higher levels than the one I currently operate on, the resulting answer was of some surprise to me.
Today I discovered that one very useful thing you can do to prepare yourself to be a highly successful physicist is to study things that are entirely unrelated to Physics. That is, some of the best practices are to make sure that you are fully literate in science. But don’t stop there. Take in the arts, read novels, attend lectures and talks around other areas that have no relation at all to your discipline. And why is this? Well the reason is quite simple – you will be drilled in the way of thinking that your discipline requires because you are indeed working within it that it will be unlikely that outside of your study time further depth into the same techniques will be of much use. When you eventually get to solve some on the big problems which are facing the world – the problems for which there is currently no answer, one of the most important factors is going to be thinking in different ways because lets face it everyone currently inside the box hasn’t got the answers. You can’t get to a stage where you need to think outside the box either and then try to do it, as will all things it is a skill grooved over time. Of course you are going to need the skills related to your discipline at the very core of it, but if you have given due care and attention to your degree they will be there.
I went into the conversation, I have to say expecting to come out with the advice that the best thing to further my academic potential was to bury my head in endless pages of textbooks. The result makes a lot more sense; and when you think of it what would you rather write on a job application? I have done my degree and achieved 1st and read 35 textbooks…. Or I have done my degree achieved a 1st, attended many scientific events, open lectures, participated in conferences and have a keen interest in literature, travel and writing. The latter sounds like the person I would want to hire, which does beg the question as to why I didn’t come to that conclusion, since really all I am saying is the age old be a rounded person. But I think being fully literate in science is very important. Some of the greatest discoveries in science, take for example the discovery of DNA was at the hands of a physicist.
The plan? To learn language. To attend a variety of lectures, to read generalist science books. For the next few years I commit to being a better rounded individual. When the time comes later in my course I will break rank and start to up the intensity but for now, let’s hammer out another distinction and get some variety in my brain. Final note of course is that if you are looking to take a similar path it is riddled with competition and incorrect decisions. Finding mentors and people you can get advice from is essential, just as I have recently.