Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ignore Arrogance? Arrow Ignorance?

I was talking to a certain Mr. Igno-Arrogant, a distant friend of a friend’s friend. We started talking about what we do for a living. I told him that I work towards developing the scientific workforce, more specifically, a PhD in Science Education. Now I am not totally new to confused looks when someone hears about my subject of interest. I am more than happy most of the time to explain what that means. Some even ask if this means I educate people or teach science. It is neither. Broadly speaking, I just research on how to motivate more people to study science, how to reach out to those at the risk of losing interest, I research on how to teach teachers to teach science better, and so on. Many ask me is this real science, since they perceive science to be something done mixing chemicals or running instruments, even writing codes, but something that either involves a computer or a grim-looking laboratory straight out of science fiction. Most people do not regard the practice of any other forms of science as real science. I would attribute it to a little shortsightedness and a lot of difference in philosophy, but I digress here.

This gentleman, and of course it had to be a man, gentle or not, listened to me explain what I do for my PhD. Then he arched his eyebrows, almost convincing me he was impressed, and told me what a great plan it was. On hearing the word “plan”, I got a little confused. I’ll paraphrase what he explained to me.

He was all praises, genuinely, without sarcasm. He told me that instead of doing a PhD in something challenging, and more demanding, like engineering or nuclear science, it is great that I choose to do a PhD in something not many people know about, let alone choose it as a career option. According to him, this means I would face less competition, less struggle, and would establish myself faster than any of my peers studying something more in demand, like medicine or computer engineering. It would take me less time, lesser number of publications, and lesser efforts to have a scintillating career. He was all praises for me, earnestly, honestly.

Honestly, I did not what to tell this dude. That just because he doesn’t know about a field doesn’t make it any less demanding or easier to establish oneself in, like he thought. He had an offensive tone to his voice, just like we used to look down on someone in school who studied home science or gardening compared to say, computer science or electronics. That was in school of course, and I have huge issues with establishing a hierarchy in education where certain subjects are meant for intelligent people, and certain subjects are meant for the brainless lot to ensure they can still have some job and not die of starvation. Science is not just the phenomenon of studying atoms and molecules, it is the phenomenon of studying anything, be it human psychology, workings of a political system, or the way certain spices and vegetables go well together when you cook them. Now certain professions have a greater demand in the society than others, and as we have witnessed it, things evolve around a certain pattern. My parents told me that when they were in college, engineering or medicine weren’t the most coveted things to do, and the better students did a B.Sc and M.Sc in “pure sciences” (another term I have issues with. Why pure sciences? Is there anything impure?). Things changed, the engineering subjects came more in demand, computer sciences became somewhat a “hot” field, followed by biotechnology. Now do you choose to study something just because it is in vogue, or do you study it because it aligns to your interests? The society needs as much of engineers as it needs teachers, scientists, economists, geologists, historians, writers, and political scientists. The society even needs "logists" less heard of- rheologists, nematologists, and orthodontists; and I am not throwing random terms to emphasize its importance. Anyway, I have digressed here. My main issue was the fact that this dude actually thought it is better to study something “haabi-jaabi” (Bengali word for “anything not of much worth”) and face less competition than study something high in demand. I couldn’t decide if I should have ignored his arrogance or arrowed his ignorance in the right direction. I did neither. I just smiled at him and told him, “You are so right. Hope not many people discover this secret”. I think my sarcasm was wasted on him.

sunshine

8 comments:

Biddu said...

I have also come across these type of people who are ignorant about a particular topic..especially higher education...and still try to give a scholarly opinion...which eventually reflects and amplifies their ignorance. Most of the times I keep silent and listen to what they say with a smiling face and I just say to myself that let them be as they are...it's not my job to teach them or enlighten them :)

Arnab Majumdar said...

You tend to get a lot of folks like that... and the weirdest bit, which I'm sure you've guessed by now, is that all of that was said with the least amount of purposeful, intended malice! These people tend to generalise any term (and this is not just limited to matters of profession) that they are unable to understand as "haabi-jaabi". In a way, I can't even blame them, for more often than not, they belong to a different time and place altogether... but then again, there's only so much of degradation that you can take...

By the way, your job sounds interesting. How I wish I had a cool job like that... :) (No, I'm not JUST saying that!)

Cheers,
Joy...

Calvin said...

Hmmm, not sure if its the right forum to ask...but just out of curiosity wanted to know a little bit more about your work field....details as in what exactly do you teach, and how long does it take?...

I may not use any of it, but my long term goal is to be a professor....long term bole to long term...haven't put any timelines to it....may be 5 years, may be 10 years..

yugun said...

i don't know his intentions (arrogance/looking down) but his point is right. becoming great at something that is not very popular gives that person a niche and its easy to achieve success (relative to becoming successful in a overly popular field). you should read malcolm gladwell's ouliers (http://www.amazon.com/Outliers-Story-Success-Malcolm-Gladwell/dp/0316017922/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1)

sunshine said...

Biddu- It's sad!!

Arnab- See, I don't have issues with ignorance, not that I know everything, but people who do not know everything should learn to keep quiet and listen, and not jump with their own conclusions about things.

Calvin- Feel free to send me an email and we can talk more about it. sunshinenjoy@gmail.com

yugun- Thanks for recommending the book, I am always looking for interesting books to read. Regarding your argument about him being right, really? He assumed my field is not common, and then he assumed it is not that much in vogue, and then he generalized things. Isn't there supposed to be a finesse about putting things? Or maybe a more politically correct way to state things?

Firefly said...

Such people annoy me too. When it comes to research, there are generally very few people working on any given research area. Of course, there might be a lot of people working on "Computer Science" in general, but we are not talking about such general areas at all!
To excel in areas that have fewer people, one really needs to be very good since everyone in that area would be there only because they are highly motivated to do so!
Such old-fashioned, uncle-type comments are not just useless but they are completely laughable.
I'm so sorry my comment grew so long! But just ignore such people Sunshine. You are worth a lot lot more.

ashkd said...

Very Interesting and Very Relevant.. Similar to Calvin, i am also interested to know more about your work..

My dream is to have a place where Science is taught in non-conventional way with more experiments.. Dr H C Verma is doing something similar in some villages near IIT-K.. I wish to take it forward.. Your thesis would surely be of great help.. :-)

sunshine said...

Firefly- No, it was not a long comment, it was a very well-put comment.

ashkd- I'd be more than happy to write about what I do in subsequent posts. And thanks for mentioning the works of Dr. H.C. Verma. I'd be interested to read up more.