Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Scientific research

I had been rather busy lately as I was wrapping up my masters thesis which I finally handed in last week. It has been an insightful and rewarding experience, even if a bit painful at times.

This was my first experience conducting serious research and I learned quite a few lessons through the process.

I started out with a rather complex design which just didn't make for a coherent and neat story in the thesis. I had to go back to the whiteboard several times before I came up with the final design that my supervisor was satisfied with. Upon some reflection, I realized that it is easy to hide sloppy and incomplete thinking behind a facade of complexity, and that simple and beautiful designs demand a lot of clarity and completeness in thought.

The second surprising lesson I learnt was the difficulty of precisely saying something that is intuitively clear. To rehash a cliche: the devil is in the details. It took me many rounds of phrasing and rephrasing to finally say what I wanted to say.

Ironically, while science has the potential to increase the effective grasp and control of humans over nature, the scientific process has the opposite effect: it tends to make you much more humble and aware of your limitations. It is inspiring to see what one can achieve when one starts out with a humble and curious attitude, in awe of all there is but knowing that one doesn't know much of what there is to know.

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