On the Importance of Breadth of Knowledge

I have started reading my copy of “The Complete Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Conan Doyle from the beginning, and it has been a pleasant read so far. I have just read about the part where Watson found out that although Sherlock may be an expert in forensic chemistry, he is terrible at many other aspect of science and life, which includes little to none knowledge of philosophy, astronomy, politics, and so on. When asked about why doesn’t he know any of those subjects, he says that the human brain only has a limited capacity, and that if he doesn’t use all that capacity for the things that are most important to him, he would waste some for the irrelevant subjects.

I am also reading “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out” by Richard Feynman these few days, and he talked about how although being a Nobel wining physicist, he did not know much outside of his field, and that he considers the subjects that can not be mathematically proven to be “pseudo-science”, since those pseudo-scientists did not conduct those experiments in scientifically controlled ways.

I was like them during my earlier years of undergraduate. I loved physics, I enjoyed all the classes, on top of that, I was so enthusiastic about it I became the president of the society of physics students at our school, I wanted to make everyone love physics the same way as I do. I thought math was too abstract, chemistry is not as fundamental, and biology is too qualitative to be called a science. I shut down learning about everything else and only wanted to learn more about physics.

I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work at laboratories in multiple fields starting sophomore year. Since I was “forced” into exposure of other fields, I had to make sure that I do well in those labs even though they are not strictly physics. I worked in materials science lab, electrical engineering lab, chemistry lab, and of course, physics lab. With such a variety of exposure, I started to learn to appreciate other subjects of science, and they are not as bad as I thought they would be, one reason being since physics is so fundamental, almost anything I do in any labs, I could relate to physics.

I have been a subscriber to AAAS’ Science magazine for over a year now. I have been making myself reading every single article in these, most of the time a good portion of it I would have no prior knowledge about. For the more technical part of the magazine, even if I would have no idea about the detailed science behind the paper, I would at least read the abstract so that I have a vague idea of what the paper is about. I found this benefiting for my personal growth and my growth as an aspiring scientist. I became more aware of what goes on in the scientific world and learned more about how nature works. This is definitely more fun and rewarding compared to learning about physics alone. Furthermore, I learned to draw connections between different disciplines, subjects such as biophysics and nature-inspired-engineering begin to make sense. Learning about science across the whole spectrum has enabled me to think freer, and better at coming up with solutions, since I am equipped with all kinds of problem solving skills from the papers I read. I personally believe having a breadth of knowledge is a very important part of being a researcher.

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