Full credit for this post goes to Mac Hird (@ImMacHird), who is blogging and collaborating with my chemistry students this trimester. The first blog assignment was to share thoughts on “What makes a good science student?”. Mac’s response is one that I feel all science students should see.
Close you eyes and imagine a science student, as portrayed by popular culture. Almost certainly you have imagined someone who has memorized the entire textbook and never asks questions in class, only answers them. My definition of a good science student is exactly opposite to this.
Good science students are okay with saying “I don’t know,” aren’t afraid of asking questions in front of their peers, and certainly don’t spend the time to memorize the textbook. What has struck this idea home for me the most though, was a passage in Richard Feynman’s book “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman.” Feynman was a Nobel Prize winning Physicist, and a personal hero of mine growing up. In this book he details his experience in a graduate level biology course (that he, as a Physicist, was surprised to be keeping up with the other students in the class despite the advanced material that was from outside his field) where he was asked to present a research paper on the nerve impulses in a cat. He began his preparation by going to the library and asking for a “map of a cat” as he put it; a diagram of a cat’s anatomy so that he could make sense out of all of the references in the paper. He then began his presentation outlining the various muscles and nerves. He was interrupted by a biology student, asking him to move on because they had all memorized all of the muscles and nerves in a cat.
His response, which I will never forget, was:
” ‘Oh, you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you’ve had four years of biology.’ They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes” (Page 72, if you are interested)
Here is one of the most decorated physicists of all time clearly demonstrating that it is much more important to grasp the nature of scientific phenomenon and asking questions to improve that understanding than it is to memorize equations that can be looked up in minutes back in the 1940s, and can be looked up in a few seconds today. I try not to make this same mistake in my own studies, and I hope you don’t make the same one!
Couldn’t have said it better myself.