Eclectic Curiosity

Academic Culture Clash

Posted on April 29th, 2008, by Steve Hardy in Archives, Miscellany. No Comments

“Female Science Professor” recently posted an observation of a culture clash amongst science profs in a committee at her university. She noted that one particular issue seemed to transcend differences in scientific field, age, gender, race, or sanity level. The issue: whether one was focused or unfocused in their approach to academic research. She writes:

In the meeting today, some members of the Focused Group put forward the opinion that those who work on a wide range of topics tend to be ‘too ambitious’, ‘too scattered’, and ‘superficial’. Some members of the Unfocused Group put forward the opinion that those who work on a specific, very focused topic are ‘too narrow’, ‘can’t see the Big Picture’, and won’t know what to do when that topic has been studied to extinction.

I should say that this was a very friendly discussion, and our disagreements were not expressed in a hostile way at all. Nevertheless, we found ourselves at an impasse, and have not yet found a way to reconcile these two different views to the extent of reaching a decision. …Surely the answer is that the scientific community needs both kinds of scientists, ideally working together now and then. In our committee, however, we have to choose one species over the other, and that is difficult.

Focused or unfocused – that’s a false choice (and university professional should know it). Specialists and generalists are the ultimate complements, and the real opportunity lies not in determining which one is better but rather in finding and fostering more ways for them to cooperate more completely and more often.

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