Reading curriculum is a great way of acquiring basic knowledge of fields, famous research, and classic theories… But its hard to shake the “memorize-or-bust” feeling that follows these books, and the authors often do not have time to explore the sidelines and front lines of any given sub-field.
It’s easy, very easy, to get caught up in the course at hand, and deny yourself the time to explore literature outside of the curriculum. Or maybe the thought doesn’t tempt you at all. But whenever I reflect on this, I find the pleasure of actively seeking out interesting topics to be worth it every time. If its relevant to a particular course, it always makes the mandatory reading easier (even if you fall behind a couple of chapters). But more importantly, whatever field you’ll devote your time to in the future should be one you think is exiting and want to dive into, beyond what is required for basic understanding. The topics should drag you in and the research embrace you. Reading about science for pleasures sake is where inspiration begins and great ideas come from. If good science is a work of art, which I happen to think it is, all artists can benefit from studying the works of others.
Whenever I have set aside time for reading science for fun it has helped shape my understanding of the courses I take, the topics I want to pursue, and the science I would one day like to be doing. The last points are something rarely made time for in a normal bachelor course. It is understandably hard to find the time. And it is by no means a smart thing to sacrifice all free-time for extracurricular reading if it’s not pleasurable. And so… maybe some work-hours happens to disappear from the schedule. Maybe it’s worth the risk of not being completely up to speed on the actual curriculum. I’ll not make any bold claims, but worst case scenario: you fall behind some chapters on the curriculum and waste some days away. More often than not though, reading science on your own accord can be useful in a surprising number of ways.
There is no doubt that science and university make a snug couple. Sure there are probably ways to get into research projects from outside of academia. But if it involves reading papers, booking labs, and finding colaborators on your own it could be expensive. Especially since a single ten page paper can cost 40$ or more at your local research journal.
More importantly though, school is where you build the foundation of knowledge that lies behind any good question about the world. I think its more than just creativity and stroke of genius that makes a good researcher. I am young, and know little perhaps, but all the men and women of science I have come to admire have first and foremost a vast knowledge of their own fields of interest. And that is one of the things I admire most about them I guess. It alows them to ask facinating questions that I didn’t realise could be asked.
School also lets you get a taste of different theoretical fields. Its not easy picking a field of interest. Sure some classes will bore you and seem unimportant. But I have come to realize that is not a bad thing. Things that doesn’t inspire you might lead you to the things that do if you let them.
Science is hard. More than anything I wish I could see a path to it clear-cut, and know what’s over the horizon. Maybe that becomes easier,
when standing on the shoulders of giants.
Subject: My road to a career in science. At the time of writing this is by no means a guarantee, but hey. A little optimism couldn’t hurt.
Field of interest: Neuroscience and social psychology.
Hypothesis: It could be useful, and perhaps even interesting, to keep a journal of how I go about establishing a career as a researcher. An opportunity to remind myself that I’m actually making progress when I am, and a place to go for self-patting on the back when I am not.
Design: N = 1… well case study if we’re technical.
Notes to self: Keep track of the things I (… or you? I’ll never get used to refer to myself in text) do in order to one day work as a scientist. Write some useful notes about the events of the month, try to keep it work-related. Maybe take some pictures.