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Dealing with inexperienced/overambitious members

  1. Aug 22, 2011 #1
    I have read many discussions on PF and it is a great resource. The members are very helpful to answer all types of questions and give their input. Unfortunately when dealing with responses to questions posed by "inexperienced" and overambitious (usually young) members it is easy to be to realistic. Just so we are on the same page I will make up a quick example:

    "I'm in high school and have been reading Stephen Hawking books lately and think I want to do research in black holes."

    "Reading Stephen Hawking books is not the same as doing actual science, plus only a small fraction of people are fit for performing research in the field of black holes"

    Now everything in the response may be true. And giving realistic advice is definitely a good thing, I'm not arguing that...I just think it is important to keep kids interested in science. Remember science is also meant to be fun! And when responses are written in such a blunt way, it can inadvertently push young minds away from the field. Perhaps a better response would be:

    "Although only a fraction of people actually do the type of work you are suggesting, your current interest in the field is a great start. But you will also want to learn basic physics and math first as they are the building blocks you will need before tackling more advanced problems."

    Notice how this revised response still manages to give realistic advice while remaining positive and not coming off as arrogant. A good article related to this subject titled "What happened to Science Education" from Astronomy Magazine highlights the current state of science education and why kids are pushed away from it. - http://www.astronomy.com/~/media/Files/PDF/Magazine articles/science-education.ashx

    P.S. - I don't think that in any thread I have read, the person giving advice meant in any way to be rude. This is just some of my advice to keep members active and interested in science. Feel free to give your input as well.
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  3. Aug 22, 2011 #2
    I hear what you're saying, and to some extent I agree.

    I think I'm also guilty of making such answers, and you might want to be interested in why such answers are given. The thing is that many people reading Stephen Hawking books are interested in science for the wrong reason, they're into science-fiction and the glamour of science. When they finally go studying it in college, they will find it boring, they will often slack off and they will waste a lot of money and time!

    By letting them know the reality in a (perhaps harsh) way, they will see that science is far from trivial and that they have to put in a lot of work. I always hope that my replies give them the incentive to start working hard.

    Science is also about dealing with failures and disappointment. Everybody has them. And if people are being that easily disappointed that they take a comment on an internetforum as a reason not to do science, then I'm quite certain that they can't handle the disappointment of science throughout.

    My comments might be seen by some as harsh and arrogant, but I believe that I'm doing people a favor. If they were REALLY interested in science, then my comments will perhaps encourage them to work verry hard, and that's exactly what I wanted to achieve.

    The truth shouldn't hurt. It is only the lies we put in front of our own eyes that hurt. :frown: I've experienced it more than enough, and I want to spare the others from those experiences.
  4. Aug 22, 2011 #3
    That is a very good point you make and it is 100% true, a career in science is full of failures and it is important to learn how to deal with them. But if a person is young and just gaining an interest it is important to not only be realistic with them, but to show them the "good side" of science. As they grow and take more classes they will figure out quickly that their "romance" is not accurate. Yet just because it is not accurate, doesn't mean its completely false either. I'd venture a guess that a good percentage of members on this forum have made the transition from imaginative kid to actual scientist/engineer while still retaining their love for science . If on the other hand they only hear about the technicalities, and hoops they are going to have to jump through to achieve their goal, they may not even begin. Yes this is a big part of science, but its not what gets people interested or keeps them in the field.
  5. Aug 22, 2011 #4
    Don't get me wrong, you make very good points as well. I've been thinking about your post for quite a while now. We need to get more people interested in science, and by being harsh, we might scare them away from doing science.

    I do think that we really need to tell them that they shouldn't read Hawking or the like and that they need to work hard. It's our responsability. But we should also give them some alternatives. What books should they read?? What mini-projects can they work on to enhance their skills?? I think that giving such information might help them quite a lot.

    As long as we can help them enhance their skills and lead them away from things that are untrue...
  6. Aug 22, 2011 #5


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    I kind of agree. The people that are interested in the science fiction aspect of things, yet have never sat around on the kitchen floor spinning those plastic easter eggs on their sides, watching them stand up on their end, and never wondered just what was going on with those eggs. The ones that watch movies and magazines, but ignore the things around them in their everyday life, are the ones that will also ignore the hard work part.
  7. Aug 22, 2011 #6
    I think that is a great idea. Though I still believe it is okay to read the popular science books, as long as learn they understand they need to start learning fundamentals first.

    Here's a simple quote to help illustrate such a point since we all love quotes haha,
    Don't run before you can walk... But don't loose track of running.
  8. Aug 22, 2011 #7
    Yes this is true. I like to think of this popular science as kind of a hook. Its easy to get people interested and excited about it. Then as they begin their journey into learning actual basic physics and so on they will hopefully apply that natural curiosity to more realistic problems. Of course their path and interests will change along they way, but hopefully they will find something interesting in science..it is a HUGE field.
  9. Aug 22, 2011 #8


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    Twofish-quant uses a very good analogy when discussing the difference between real physics, and the physics people read about in the layman's books.

    Books like 'A Brief History of Time' are like collections of photos taken at the top of Mt Everest. The pictures are awesome and may inspire some to become mountain climbers. But those pictures tell you *nothing* about what it takes to become a mountain climber.

    I like that analogy and I steal it frequently :biggrin:.
  10. Aug 22, 2011 #9


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    And like with pictures, you can find the sky and the snow MUCH more vibrant and amazing when you actually arrive there yourself.
  11. Aug 22, 2011 #10

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    I second that!

    I believe in inspiring people and making them interested in the field.

    Soon enough they will find their limitations if they have those.
    But until they find those limitations, at least they found something to enjoy and to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
    I believe people will profit from knowledge and understanding of science, even if it will not become their chosen profession.
    They still profit from learning to think logically and systematically.

    I dislike blunt opinions from some other members, and if I can I will try to soften that bluntness.
  12. Aug 22, 2011 #11


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    I agree, a soft touch is my style too. Although I edited kjohnson's post to the way I would phrase it.

    I used to give a bit of a 'warning' that it's going to be a difficult road. But I rarely do that anymore, for the reason you give: they will find their limits on their own.
  13. Aug 23, 2011 #12


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    I think we should always strive to teach, explain and inspire. I too have frowned when I've read posts (sometimes by mentors) that simply respond with "No, you are wrong". All answers should come with explanations and discussion.

    The biggest frustration for me is when you get an arrogant poster who doesn't want to discuss science, they want you to list sciences that will make their fantasy possible. Here's a typical example I tend to engage in:

    OP - When will nanotechnology allow us to live forever in machines?
    Me - Nanotechnology is....nanotechnology is not....biological senescence...hard problem of consciousness...
    OP - Ignoring all of that how long will it be?
    Me - Predictions of unknown...discussion of current science...debunking of cranks...
    OP - Scientists are so arrogant when they say things wont happen. You all once thought that humans couldn't fly too! Think of how much progress we've made in the last 50 years???

    Very frustrating. I love teaching those who want to learn but unfortunately not all posters are like this.
  14. Aug 23, 2011 #13


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    :rofl: the only thing I don't get is why you posted summary instead of a link.
  15. Aug 23, 2011 #14


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    hah, i had to deal with people like this all the time as well, and i still haven't figured out the best way aside from staying quiet
  16. Aug 23, 2011 #15

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    Sometimes I respond:
    OP - When will nanotechnology allow us to live forever in machines?
    Me - I don't know [which is actually very true].

    Results vary, some posters do like this answer.
    Often someone else will come in and give a longer answer.....

    Usually I stay quiet though. :wink:
  17. Aug 23, 2011 #16


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    yeah, i always get people who found something that may lead to other interesting concepts (example: metamatierials and optical cloaking)
    When I explain the current difficulties and such they get all angry at me.

    basically it often reaches a point that some people get too excited to listen to reason, so I just walk away shaking my head
  18. Aug 23, 2011 #17


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    Lol, I'll save face of those few posters.
    I tend to try to ask them what they think they mean, then explain what the field really is then discuss their OP in relation to their new understanding. Doesn't always work though :frown:

    (Bold mine) YES!
    I always find the problem to be that with questions surrounding nanotechnology and other magicks generally the poster's understanding of the field is gained solely through science fiction (i.e. little robots playing with atoms like lego). The compounding problem of this is that they rarely believe me or others when we point out this is not the field and in fact saying nanotechnology is about little robots is like saying physics is about intergalactic space travel.
  19. Aug 23, 2011 #18


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    I have mixed opinions on this.

    I agree that most people, like micromass have the best of intentions when it comes to advice and just give the advice that they think will genuinely help the poster in making an informed decision. Nowadays this kind of advice is invaluable, and personally I wish I had access to this kind of advice when I was younger.

    Having said inspiration is an incredible thing. I think we all have dreams to do things, and even if we didn't become what we envisioned ourself to be, the journey ends up leading to things that we become immersed in and that make us happy which in turn helps make other people happy. People might mock me for saying this, but people need dreams. The dreams are needed just as much as the realities of our world and both are required for any real progression. In order to try new things, we need the mentality that it "just might work", no matter how bizarre or unorthodox it may seem. Reality may tear it apart, or it may be defined by our dream. Like it was said in the book: "But I am a poor man with only my dreams. Tread softly, for you are treading on my dreams."

    Its funny though because as we (or at least some of us) become more constrained in our view of things. We grew up with our radical new world that has left the elderly behind when we were young, and slowly we become the new middle aged and elderly for the new generation.

    So overall, I have a mixed view. If people aren't faced with some reality their choice will be highly misinformed, whereas if their optimism is killed (even if in some ways it is "blind optimism") then maybe the person who should have been a scientist, didn't purely because they had a preconceived notion.

    Overall I do think that most people on here have good intentions. With regards to authenticity of the advice I find that if a post has very specific information like anecdotes or thoughts that are clear and concise, then that does give me some degree of confidence since the statement is backed up with some kind of logical argument.

    You have to remember that we all have our beliefs and experiences and in many instances, they conflict with others. In this circumstances, you could have an endless debate between two people without resolution, and both will argue their point passionately and in their own view, honestly. This is an essential component of human life: that is, sorting out truth from fiction, because as many of us know: truth is often stranger than fiction.
  20. Aug 23, 2011 #19


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    I agree that there has to be a mix of realism and inspiration so long as the former does not contradict the latter.
    To be fair I don't think this is necessarily true. For example not all of us are middle aged, some of us (HINT) are not much older than the legal drinking age in some countries...

    Secondly there is a difference between being old and set-in-your-ways and being experienced in a field. It's easy for naive posters to accuse members of the former when in actual fact if they had more of the latter they would see why their "dream" is nonsensical or off-the-mark.
    True but there is a difference between a difference of opinion and a difference of fact. We can all say "I believe this is better than that by this metric" but we can test that and see if the person is correct. Above all this is a science forum and there are very few threads that can't be answered with facts and evidence.
  21. Aug 23, 2011 #20

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    What I know is that the perspective on science, work and life shift when you move on in life.
    When you're doing your education you have ideas about what and why you are learning things.
    When you settle in your professional career, you'll find out that the professional world works differently than you thought and has different requirements than you'd think during your education.
    Looking back it makes someone wonder what the right thing to say is to someone who is at the beginning.

    God, saying something like this makes me feel old!
    And I'm not even that old.
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