Who is that? I’ve questioned myself as to what or who a scientific researcher is, and on more than one occasion. Partly, because I wanted to be one myself in the past. Although the answer’s quite simple, it’s not a very easy question to answer. Nevertheless, the significance of the question for anyone looking to delve deeper into the sciences is paramount.
I recall the time when I used to be in middle school; and a typical nerd with good grades. As an Indian with stereotypical parents, mine were quite impressed with my academic progress. However, I soon realised that they offered me no form of fulfilment or satisfaction whatsoever. Was I only as good as the grades I got? What about my talent as an orator? Or my performance on the track? They weren’t being graded by the school at the time. Was my capability limited to how I can appease some individuals by remembering how I should be catering to their expectations of a “correct” answer?
Trust me, took me a while to figure it out. I started voluntarily dropping my grades. Ninety percent, Eighty percent, seventy by the time I sat for my first national examinations. Uh-oh… The society was starting to dub me as an average student. Sixty-five percent when I graduated high school in the second national examinations. Albeit, I had picked a coursework that was hard but, it still wasn’t impressive by the standards of my community. Especially for someone looking to become a scientist.
And then university happened. Five years of my life so far. Wasted? Not quite. It was definitely an experience. An experience of a system that’s quite stagnant. For the first two years, I lived the life of an average student. Go to class, sit at the back, play a few games perhaps and sleep for the most part of the lecture. After all, it was mostly just basic stuff. I wasn’t quite interested. I got average grades, flunked a few subjects and that was all. An average student through and through. My professors weren’t very impressed and I was just another face to be forgotten.
But wait, was I average? I remember I was also writing at the time. I completed a short fictional book of mine in my second year. Even self-published it under a nom-de-plume (that’s french for an assumed name or pseudonym or pen-name). I could speak four languages fluently. I was able to indulge in my obsession with animes and mangas and learned much about the Japanese culture. To an extent, even learning a few phrases. Were these not accomplishments? Perhaps they are to some. But to a system that was grading based upon a conventional method, I was still an average student.
In my third year, I started getting interested in classes. They weren’t getting any better, just had a few subjects I looked forward to. So, I listened. However, my grades didn’t improve. The fourth year, I even did an internship. Perhaps by fortune or lack thereof, it wasn’t graded. And I remained an average student. My fifth year, had to have a clash with my department. Anger fueled by a few instigations in my fourth year, I acted a bit immature and that’s when I realised how average I really was. The higher-ups decided to brush aside my concerns because and I quote “you’ve always been an average student”. Well, it wasn’t their fault. After all, not everyone can assess an individual’s worth. And I agree, I was always an average student. Did that make me an average person or an average researcher?
Hmm… I might have diverted a little. Perhaps a little too much of venting. Sigh. Let’s get back on track. So what I’m trying to say is that people find it hard to believe me when I claim to be a scientific researcher. Why? Because I never had good grades. I know, Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton and many more were in the same boat as I. The examples are rather over-rated these days. And I don’t think I’m anywhere near as exceptional as them. Because their research was ahead of their time while mine is yet limited to my generation. So if not grades, you need a Nobel Prize, right? Wouldn’t be too sure. Because, isn’t it just another accolade? And besides, even Stephen Hawkings doesn’t have one. The discoverers of graphene got a Nobel Prize for putting some pencil lead between some scotch tape and pulling it apart while many who’ve made the process more commercial receive no such awards. So is that what makes a scientific researcher?
A good scientific researcher was never someone with good grades, big contributions to society, great awards, or anything else imaginable. A scientific researcher was, is and forever will be, like an infant. Building upon the basics to accomplish a more complex task, using whatever tool is made available at the time. In fact, anyone and everyone can claim to be one. Just follow what a child does when it tries to walk for the first time. If I’m to put it more eloquently, then; observe, comprehend, hypothesise, experiment, fail, optimise, succeed, and report. That’s all it takes!
And what if you didn’t know the basics, you ask? Well, you can always just learn!