Content-type: text/html ~ Stephen's Web ~ What I learned as a hired consultant to autodidact physicists

Stephen Downes

Knowledge, Learning, Community

I've described this in talks more often than I can count, so it's nice to have an actual physicist make the point for me: "During a decade of education, we physicists learn more than the tools of the trade; we also learn the walk and talk of the community, shared through countless seminars and conferences, meetings, lectures and papers. After exchanging a few sentences, we can tell if you're one of us. You can't fake our community slang any more than you can fake a local accent in a foreign country." Physicists recognize each other.

What's unfair about the whole thing is that people who are not experts cannot tell that they're not. "My clients know so little about current research in physics, they aren't even aware they're in a foreign country. They have no clue how far they are from making themselves understood." Yeah. And it's not just physics - I see the same thing in well-meaning scientists (including computer scientists) and engineers trying to talk about education and philosophy. And I wonder - every day - in what areas I'm seen by real practitioners as an unschooled amateur.

Finally, though: "They are driven by the same desire to understand nature and make a contribution to science as we are. They just weren't lucky enough to get the required education early in life, and now they have a hard time figuring out where to even begin." Because everyone is something.

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Stephen Downes Stephen Downes, Casselman, Canada

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Last Updated: Jul 24, 2024 2:09 p.m.

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