My students and collaborators are planning a scientific conference for my 60th birthday, which will take place in about a year. “I have learned even more from my professors, more from my friends, and also the most from my students,” Rabbi Hanina said.
We were all once students. Many of us have cuts and bruises from early experiences with our mentors, much as children do as they learn to navigate through the world. When those advisors try to create their power by forcing us to respect traditional ideas, conflicts arise. These events should inspire us to do better as we transition into new roles and advisor others later in life.
My research assistant mentor, for example, advised me to develop specialized skills and focus them on a small group of the field where I could maintain myself as a real expert. After realizing that digging down narrowly sometimes leads to the bedrock of a topic, where I can make no further progress, I chose not to follow this advice. In these conditions, a more comprehensive outlook increases the chances of discovery by identifying the bedrock’s outlands and allowing “out of the box” drilling possibilities around it. It is instrumental after discovering unexplained anomalies that can only explain within the current paradigm, such as the first interstellar object found near-Earth, ‘Oumuamua, which did not act like anything we saw before, as described in my recent novel. Extraterrestrial, about the first interstellar object located near Earth, ‘Oumuamua, which did not act like anything we had seen before.
I motivate my students and postdocs to keep thinking and independently about the most exciting problems in astrophysics, such as: “What occurred before the big bang?”; “What will happen in our faraway cosmic future?”; “What is the existence of dark matter?”; “What occurs when one moves closer to a black hole singularity?”; “When one gets near to a black hole singularity?”; “When one gets close to a dark matter singularity?”; “When one gets close to a black hole singular.
It is common to practice to regard a student’s raw potential as a separate commodity whose worth can be determined through examinations. However, my experience taught me that research students do not blossom into extraordinary researchers unless positive words and motivation surround them; these components are necessary for flower seeds as nutrients and water are. Achievements may also become self-fulfilling prophecies; without any initial confidence in a student’s ability to become a good scientist, this result does not occur.
For almost a century as chair of the Harvard astronomical department, I saw many examples of students who were relatively slow to advance but blossomed once they chose a new advisor and a new subject for their Ph.D. A successful mentor recognizes the mentee’s strengths and tailors the partnership to those strengths. Consequently, a positive mentoring experience often represents a positive relationship between a new scientist and an advisor. It should commend them both for sharing a common academic DNA.
Mentors, on the one hand, enjoy Oscar Wilde’s observation: “Imitation is the sincerest type of flattery…” On the other hand, they should encourage students to be creative and venture off the beaten path. Since mentors prefer to think favorably of their own decisions, it’s difficult to pinpoint the conditions that justify rejecting the trend of imitation. However, the general rule is to allow young academics only enough room to move openly and learn from their errors without jeopardizing their prestige or potential career path. The learning curve can be steep; some of my 50 students over the years began slowly but gradually ascended to the highest levels. Patience is key.
As a researcher, I came across several gates and was lucky enough to be let in by the gatekeepers. As a result, I keep in mind that there must be those with similar credentials which were not so fortunate. As a result, my lifelong goal is to assist young academics in realizing their full potential. When I agreed to write my latest novel, I told the publisher that I would be happy if only one person in the world decided to pursue a career in science after reading it.
I got an e-mail last month from a woman in Malawi who said, “Nice book… I’ve never used a telescope before… I hope the book inspires more women to do research…” “Could you be the special person I was looking for by writing the book?” I asked after telling her about my early interaction with the publisher. “Yes, that would be me,” she replied, and I advised her to apply to Harvard University for graduate studies in astronomy.
Scientists are eternal students of nature because the scientific study is essentially a learning experience. Practical hints and their theoretical interpretation create a classroom setting for our two-way conversation with reality. We discover something fresh when proof contradicts our preconceived ideas. Amaya Moro-Martin, a colleague from the Space Telescope Science Institute, talked about ‘Oumuamua a few years ago. “‘Oumuamua is so strange…,” whispered a colleague of mine during the lecture, who had spent decades working on rocks in the solar system. I wish it had never happened.”
As a dogmatic thinker, he would have preferred to remain in his comfort zone by only hearing supporting evidence for well-known rocks. It contrasts with a perpetual student’s mindset, in which surprises are thrilling because they can expand our knowledge base. The proof of quantum mechanics has historically pushed classical physicists out of their comfort zones, including Albert Einstein, who had a problem with “spooky behaviour at a distance.” Following experiments disproved Einstein’s theory and heightened our concern about the correct understanding of quantum mechanics. Nature owes us no duty to make us feel at ease. It’s about the way things are. Even as Aristotle said that we are at the core of the universe and everything moves around us, the Earth rotated around the sun, causing seasons to shift.
Since I am still a student of nature, I prefer to rephrase René Descartes’ insight “I think. Therefore I am” as “I am a scientist. Therefore I understand by studying nature.” Rather than observing my colleagues, the focus here is on studying nature.