This morning while I was reading a book written by Martin Nowak, one of my favourite contemporary scientists, I realized how quickly my perception of science has been changed by experiences. This book deals with Evolution, but it relates important theories on Genetics, Ecology, Economics, Politics and Language. How in the world can a book deal with such different Sciences, is a question I would have asked myself six years ago as a senior high-school student.
To my surprise, sciences are more related than I thought before applying for admission to my bachelor degree. Back in those days I felt the deep concern that although I liked Biology and Physics I should decide for one or another. And for me that meant I could only become a biologist or a physicist. This misconception was the result of being educated to see the scientific disciplines as independent fields (opposed to the real essence of nature where Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics coexist at the same time) and a limited interaction with people who had already been in my position (an interaction our schools should promote).
I realized that today’s professionals are not economists, civil engineers, sociologists, media designers or psychologists, but a mixture of them, with a background that can not be reduced to those names. For me, the objective was to become a scientist (nowadays I would call myself a compu-eco-engineer), however the following advice applies to any other career:
1) You learn a lot in a classroom, but you learn more by your own interest.
Studying a specific bachelor program will give you a solid preparation within a field and you should exploit it, however in addition to this, “what makes you different” is what academia and employers are looking for, so if you are eager to acquire other knowledge and develop other abilities go ahead because you will enjoy doing so and this will pay off later.
2) The work done in an assessment can become a real world application so value your time and do your best.
There are plenty of gaps that companies and research centres deal with in a daily basis, so if you come up with an innovative idea this can be a game changer. Don’t take for granted your capabilities to solve problems even if the problem seems trivial, moreover polish these capabilities.
3) What you learn for mere curiosity will be useful afterwards.
Don’t doubt about learning something that seems to be unrelated to your background, you will be surprised by how this gives you a new perspective. The next time you face a challenging problem you will possess new insights to approach it.
4) We live in the information era, use it in your favour.
The previous points converge to this. The internet provides an infinite amount of knowledge, much of which is exceptionally valuable. From books to interactive media, nowadays you can learn at your own pace, but remember to focus on the important: develop your critical thinking, create connections and find patterns, don’t focus in memorizing because that’s what the internet already does.
5) Start having creative ideas ASAP and improve them.
Now all the previous converge to this: you have had the curiosity, you have fed it, now what do you do with this new knowledge?. Hint: start having new ideas. Find the gaps and frontier challenges, then ask yourself: what needs to be done? why hasn’t it been done? what can I do about it? and how can I do it?. Start doing this asap in your career, you will see the improvement in the detail and feasibility of your proposals.
6) Exploit the previous point, now you have a broader perspective of the problems.
If you think this point may be redundant with the previous one, it’s because it is. I want to emphasize: now that you have wandered around the knowledge’s map you will see how easy is for you to move around different disciplines and come up with cutting edge ideas. Let your peers evaluate these ideas, get feedback and start developing them to become real.
7) Don’t stop learning even if you have found what you love.
As time pass by you will find yourself running out of time to study, but keep learning from different sources. Even if you find the job you want to advocate yourself, you can always improve it. Value your accomplishments but don’t rest on them, push yourself to become a better individual.
Finally, notice how everything summarizes to a pair of qualities that every toddler have: curiosity & joy. You have had the key to be a successful professional all this time, so go out to exploit your curiosity and fill your memory with joyful experiences.