There is a risk in the sciences of losing the creativity and the courage to boldly pursue completely untested hypotheses and ideas. And while this can’t be avoided in graduate school (at least for the way we currently do graduate school: students basically do the research their advisers tell them to do in order to get the field’s merit badge–a Ph.D.), it’s important not to let the creative juices dry up during this period.
After all… some day (hopefully), you’ll be the one laying out a direction for a team of wide-eyed and terrified kids who just spent the last four years drinking too many beers. And when that time comes what kinds of problems are you going to try to be solving? The problems at the margins?
I’d encourage everyone (mostly myself: this post is really a reminder to me, rather than a plea to you, dear reader) to heed my professor’s advice. (He’s no slouch himself, Dr. John B. Goodenough just received the National Medal of Science.)
He said this to a room full of chemists he was giving a talk to back in the day: “Stop fiddling around the edges and do something useful.”
By which he meant that we shouldn’t be afraid to blaze our own trails. It’s the high-risk high-reward ventures that really have the chance to make a difference in this world.
Ok… now back to the lab.