Friday, February 6, 2009

The Jack of all trades......

Is the master of none.

It's a problem I've faced for a long time.  Having eclectic interests hinders your ability to become an expert in one thing.  I've been dwelling on this a lot lately.  I like taking a wide range of classes, looking at my project from every point of view, learning as much about other peoples work as I can.  But I overheard a comment from an office-mate the other day and it's been niggling at me ever since.  The comment could be summarized as: grad students shouldn't take many classes, but should instead stay focused on their own project only taking courses that directly relate to our work.  I guess I can see their point but I've always thought of grad school as my opportunity to increase my knowledge about everything, not just to get my own project done.

During a class yesterday the professor said: "the jack of all trades is the master of none."  Now they were referring to the evolution of host specificity in herbivorous insects, not my future as a scientist, but I was still struck by the statement.  It's funny how passing comment like that can stick with you.  Along the same lines, a soils professor I took a class from once said that everyone is an expert on something.  I've never been able to land on anything I'm an expert on.  I know quite a lot about many things, I know just a little about a lot more things, and I know very little about most of the rest.  But I am an expert on nothing.

So what is the point of education?  Becoming an expert in your area? or Learning about everything you can?  Or is there some other reason for all this knowledge that hasn't occurred to me?

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