Sunday, June 10, 2007

I'm a specialised generalist

Another month, another conference. This is June, so it must be clinical immunology in San Diego.

As a postdoctoral researcher I used to go to one major meeting per year, usually the American Society of Human Genetics. That was when I could justifiably consider myself to be an expert in my field, with a deep understanding of a narrow area. I got to give two oral presentations and got some great feedback on them. I could attend sessions where I understood the vast majority of what was being presented, and even ask an occasional question when I dared.

These days I go to lots of different conferences, and have a more superficial knowledge of a much broader area. I definitely feel less connected than I used to, a feeling epitomised at a recent dermatology meeting where the speaker obviously said something very controversial that elicited a collective gasp of astonishment from the audience. It went right over my head.

The advantage of my new broader scope is that I get to read about subjects that I just wouldn’t have had time for when I was immersed in my own speciality. I scan lots of journals’ tables of contents, read various abstracts, subscribe to New Scientist, and hang out on scientific blogs whenever I get the time. This means that when a friend starts to ask me about a scientific item they saw on the news, there’s a better chance that I can reply “oh yeah, I was reading about that last week”, rather than “ooh, sorry, that’s really not my field”.

I think I’d like to maintain most of the breadth of knowledge I’ve started to accumulate, but gain some more depth. I’m working on incorporating that goal into my current job, while this blog is part of my extra-curricular attempt to stay in touch with the latest original research.

I’m trying to be a generalised specialist.

1 comment:

  1. Paraphrasing (the book is 200 miles away)

    `I am, as you know, a specialist in nuclear physics ---'
    `Hang on, last week you told us you were a specialist in crystal structure.'
    `I'm a *general* specialist.'

    (Harry Purvis and questioner, from Arthur C. Clarke's _Tales from the White Hart_, of course.)

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