Things I’m Learning about Learning

I’m spending the summer at Princeton with a lot of really fun people. But where I’m learning isn’t as important as what I’m learning, and I’m learning a lot. Or at least, I’m trying to learn a lot. There is much I do not understand, and much of what I am learning (and relearning) is unrelated to what I’m studying.

1. Stop faking. If I pretend I know what is going on when I don’t, I put myself at a disadvantage. People will assume that I understand, and later, it will be harder to ask for help. I’m going to try to ask more questions. They can’t answer them if someone doesn’t ask them.

2. Ideas are everywhere. Other fields I don’t know much about have really good ideas. A lot of people are just happy to explain what they’re doing. It doesn’t count as plagiarism or stealing if they help you apply their idea to your own field. It’s called collaboration.

3. Literature is important. Scientific papers reveal what other people have already tried to do, and can provide ideas as well as warning. Brevity and clarity are important. Operating manuals for machinery are pretty boring, however.

4. Have fun. One of my supervisors recommended a voluntary project in addition to our assigned project. People who enjoy what they do tend to be better at it. It has to be voluntary. Relaxing without an extra project is also useful because it allows me to be more productive during work times than I would be if I worked all the time.

This “genius millionaire playboy philanthropist” sounds suspiciously like Buckaroo Banzai.

5. The Curve is steep. It’s really hard to absorb physics (and chemistry) on the fly. So I don’t beat myself up that I don’t ask more questions, that I find user’s manuals boring, or even that I’m scared and out of ideas for a side project. Or that when I relax, I spend hours reading web comics. People do not change in a day, but day by day. Likewise, a discipline is not conquered in a day. Unless you’re Ironman.

Maria Hill: When did you become an expert in thermonuclear astrophysics?

Tony Stark: Last night.

~The Avengers(2012)


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