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I actually don’t know the answer…

Ravit Helled, Professor of the University of Zürich. (Photo UZH)

By Ravit Helled

Doing research is challenging. Whether we are working on theory or observations, everyday we have to think about new ways to attack our open questions and of new methods and ideas. We need to make sure that we are aware of all the important details, and at the same time keep in mind the big picture.

When I was an undergraduate student in most of the physics classes, no questions were asked.  The spirit was that if one asks a question it means that they don’t understand the material, and are somewhat not good enough. This is of course silly, as by now I have learned that if one student does not understand something it is likely that this is the case for many other students, and in fact, it is the responsibility of the lecturer to make the material as clear as possible.  Luckily, I also had classes where the professors loved to have questions from students, and were always very patient with the students who kept nagging them (like me).

I still notice that sometimes people are afraid or hesitate to ask questions, but you should not, we are scientists, it is our task to ask, understand, and investigate further.  Similarly, we should not be afraid to say “I don’t know”. Of course we cannot know everything, and it is better to admit what we don’t know and collect new knowledge instead of pretending that we do know the answers. If all answers were available and everything was solved most of us would be out of jobs. We should not be ashamed to admit that we don’t know as long as we are still motivated and are searching for the answers. This is what research is about.

As more questions are being answered new questions arise. This is the beauty of doing science, and we should be grateful for having the opportunity to be part of it.

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