By Вen Li
Last week, an esteemed colleague of mine invoked the names Richelieu and Tremblay while drawing an analogy to his current situation. I proclaimed rather condescendingly that "I’m a
science major," implying that it was valid excuse for my ignorance, allowing my degree program speak for what I don’t know rather than what I do. Effectively, French history and all history in general were outside my sphere of scientific ignorance. Until recently, I too had accepted that excuse when I casually spoke of Watson and Crick to non-science majors. But I now realize that specialized knowledge does logically preclude a broader understanding of the world.
This is the science majors’ tragedy. Too often, we are blinded by our need to achieve discreet goals in our studies, experiments, courses and research. We fail to realize that the world outside the lab is chaotic and cannot reduce to a simple set of solvable equations. It is easy, too easy in fact for both students and educators to work only within the well-defined arenas where results are highly predictable, in theory at least, and where personality, motivation and history are relegated to conference halls. Little allowance is made for critical evaluation of anything beyond the data set, and alternative interpretations requiring original thought or multiple correct answers, as is often the case in the social sciences, are less tolerated.
Because of such ambiguity, we tend to treat what some call "random shit courses" in Humanities and Social Sciences with fear and loathing. Some view non-science courses as time-wasting degree requirements having nothing to do with their fields. These same individuals often fail to see what any science is truly about: the ability to find out.
For what it’s worth, I am glad that I gained four years of knowledge in biology but I am even more proud that I learned how to research Richelieu and how to frame the Cardinal in the correct historical context.
A BSc should indicate more than just technical proficiency or knowledge in one area alone, it should show an ability to learn and apply that knowledge beyond the simple regurgitation called for by exams. The ability to research and apply knowledge is where the true value of a degree lies and without the broader context of the world in which we live, neither is put to any great utility. Those who understand this will succeed like Marconi, those who do not will fade like Tesla.