To throw away my Magic Toolbox
It bothers me occasionally how little I feel like I’m learning in university, at least from an academic perspective. Now, I go to class every day (in theory, anyway) and I go through the notes, assignments and lectures, and write the tests on the material, and generally do ok. The material we cover, however, is sometimes maddeningly limiting, especially in the mathematics. The amount of material in an average engineering class is staggering, I mean, in fluid dynamics alone we are bulldozing our way through an entire textbook’s worth of material in one semester. I’ve long since lost count of the number of different equations that pass by, each with a well-defined and specifically worded question set that accompanies the equation, usually variable by variable. So we learn that, when looking for x, y and z, use equation one for x, equation 2 for y.. ad infinitium. That’s fine, ok, with this knowledge alone, my engineering comrades and I will go forth into the world and rule it.AWESOME. The problem I have, with this is that it leaves us unprepared for the situations when we DON’T have a set equation to deal with the variables.
I get extremely jealous of the scientists of the world. These are the people that are pushing our boundaries, and working hard to give the rest of the world an understanding that will eventually be turned into another one of those damned equations that I’ll half-remember for the next midterm. You talk to some of these people about their work, and it’s as intuitive to them as riding a bike is to the rest of us. The level at which they are capable of comprehending reality (even if it is just a very tiny, specific part of reality) is incredible. The math required in General Relativity, as an example, is so completely beyond my grasp though, that it might as well be magic. Perhaps it is just the inferior math classes in university or a naivety on my part, whatever. The point I’m trying to make is that, they get equipped to enter the world with the tools necessary to really probe and understand, whereas I feel more like a handyman that is just exceedingly good at picking the right kind of tool for the job.
I do have professors that offer me some reason to be optimistic. They stayed and studied at least to a masters, and they get to do exciting (well, exciting to some) research into the science behind my magic toolbox. This stuff looks really interesting, and rewarding as well. Maybe I should go into grad school after all.
Or maybe I should completely abandon my engineering ways to become a rogue scientist!