I’m getting paid to learn.

I’m getting paid to learn.

As I sat in front of my computer this week working on a journal club presentation, the revelation crossed my mind:  this is what I’m getting paid for.  I’m getting paid to learn.  And it was a liberating moment.  Learning is what grad school is all about.  Whether it takes the form of research or reading papers, the glue that ties together all the disparate aspects of  graduate school is learning.

So many grad students have the mantra of, “I’m here to do research.”  And that’s certainly true.  But that mantra often comes with an addendum:  “I can’t wait until classes are over so that I can spend all my time doing research.”

I can’t say that I have completely avoided thinking this myself, though I can say that I’ve remained predominantly resistant to the idea.  To me, research should be the framework upon which a graduate education is built, but not the exclusive activity.  It’s important to learn about other aspects of your field besides the narrow space around your project, and also to understand- if not as much in depth- enough of some other fields, if only with the goal of becoming a more well-rounded scientist.  It’s dangerous to get caught up in the idea that research is the only thing that matters.  Yes, publications are the currency of science- they get you a PhD, a postdoc, tenure.  But at the same time it’s narrow minded for that to be one’s only goal when there is so much other science out there to learn.

The origin of the word science is the Latin word scire, meaning “to know,” and ever since learning this etymology in a high school biology class, I realize that it’s really at the core of why I am doing what I am.  I want to know things.  I want to learn things, and understand them.  Yet it’s easy to get turned away from this idea when the overwhelming peer pressure is saying “Research!  Publish!  Graduate!”  I argue that the emphasis, especially at the graduate level, needs to redirect towards a knowledge acquisition-based system in which success is not measured not only by deep knowledge of one project, but also by a broad understanding of science as a whole.

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