It is very important to say 'I don't know' and to practice not knowing. Academia demands that we be experts, and if we stumble at all then we are punished for it. We are not allowed to have partial knowledge or ongoing knowledge.
But that's toxic. It's okay and good to not know things - even things in your own field.
The beauty of it all is that we will never fully know anything. We can only ever learn more.

It's also valid and frustrating when people don't believe you or your knowledge. It is incredibly overwhelmingly annoying to have people belittle the time and effort and years that you've put into mastering a craft. It is complicated.

Show thread


The other skill that doesn't get mentioned is good academics ask really good questions. I saw a really good talk today about why a certain theory is probably wrong. And the presenter was also really good at showing why some of the reasons given for it being wrong are themselves wrong.

I found it an amazing way to structure ignorance. The discussions afterwards were very fascinating in how people asked very precise questions to trying strive to have clarity in our ignorance.

@zzz I agree. The most valuable seminars I had were the focused on question asking and development. The questions begin the search and learning how to ask good question is such a fundamental skill. We Should be recognizing it more!

@zzz this one major reason I decided to not try to be a career scientist after my undergrad. I have always had trouble formulating effective questions, and I felt like my undergrad has not actually prepared to me to think in that way, only to absorb info @Cyborgneticz

@Awizardofearthsea @zzz I'm sorry you had that experience. I can imagine how frustrating that would feel and the walls it would place up would make me very angry to encounter. I know that some of my students are never pushed to ask good questions, which is part of why I center so much of my assignments on question asking. I wish that was something that was a part of all curriculum. Not touting my own horn I had undergrad profs do it, and without it I would not have be ready for grad school.

@Awizardofearthsea @Cyborgneticz

If it makes you feel any better I feel like I only read 2 papers a year in my field that do real science. Also it is a skill that can be honed over time. Let me see if I can find a good resource since I think it's a good skill to have in general.

@zzz @Cyborgneticz I had one professor, field ecology in my senior year, who tried to get across ideas about formating different kinds of hypothesis and the framing of questions, rather than just straight experiment design. It was good, but it was not a lot. But I'm not sure I would have been cut out for academia anyway...maybe when I'm older

@Awizardofearthsea @Cyborgneticz

There is a lot of also working backwards where we strive to ask not questions we really want answered as much as those we have the tools, measurements, data, etc to answer.

Also being intensely curious helps a lot. Wanting to understand something in more detail and be confident that you have something that could be the right answer. Like right now, I think many cities undercount their homeless population and I think this can be backed up with data.

@zzz I definitely am curious, but have difficulty constraining it lol. Formulating, directing @Cyborgneticz

@zzz I'd be very glad to take a look at anything you'd care to share! I agree that it is used beyond the academy @Cyborgneticz

@Awizardofearthsea @zzz @Cyborgneticz IMHO the hidden detail in zzz's statement is that asking one very good question takes asking a lot of lesser ones.

If you're curious, if you read and think about stuff, and if you're not afraid to ask stupid questions (to yourself and to others), you almost inevitably end up asking some very interesting questions.

@cadadr @Awizardofearthsea @Cyborgneticz

I know this is a bit of a nitpick but I said asking good questions as a contrast to bad questions. Bad questions aren't stupid questions. They are questions that when replied to don't alleviate your ignorance. Whether it is because not precise enough or too internally inconsistent.

@cadadr @Awizardofearthsea @Cyborgneticz

For example suppose I want to write a song that I will enjoy listening to. A bad question to ask someone good at writing songs is "How do I write a good song?"

A better question might be "How do I write a song I will like?"

A better question might be "What are the features of a song that makes people like them?"

A better question might be "If I like songs like X, Y, and Z., what should I know to be able to make songs like those?"

@cadadr @Awizardofearthsea @Cyborgneticz

There is no best question, but each subsequent one is more precise and more likely to have an answer you can use.

Sometimes you luck out and get an expert that has seen enough questions that they will answer one of these questions instead for you. But if you can do some of this work for them you will be happier for it.

@Cyborgneticz this is a solid take, and I try to instill this in my kids minds too.

I think maybe another aspect of the shaming problem, that you touch on here, is that people with only partial knowledge often speak in ways that seem to imply expertise.

I think it would also be great to encounter more people having real two-way dialog that moves things forward. Sometimes we really slam folks for asking the same questions we ourselves once asked... I know I've been guilty in the past.

@self Yes! The assumption of expertise often leads to problems where then someone has to assert themselves as more educated, and it so often devolves into a conversation that is unhelpful.
I agree. I know that when I step outside of teaching I can become much more critical of others for not being at X stage, when I know that there is a lot I'm far behind on according to other folks. Grace is difficult.

@Cyborgneticz very yes. eg why wd we be interested in learning something if we already knew everything.

@Cyborgneticz Well said.

An academics job is to learn and to discover. Knowing things is a side effect.

Sign in to participate in the conversation
Scholar Social

Scholar Social is a microblogging platform for researchers, grad students, librarians, archivists, undergrads, academically inclined high schoolers, educators of all levels, journal editors, research assistants, professors, administrators—anyone involved in academia who is willing to engage with others respectfully.