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Studying How important is natural talent?

  1. Jun 17, 2016 #1
    I'm a (physical) chemistry major, middle of my undergrad but I didn't really get into it until very recently.
    After realizing that I was missing out, I started to self study physics and chemistry earlier last month pretty seriously. I have come to the conclusion that I have no natural talent and my knowledge is full of holes in these subjects however I find them exciting and full of mystery.
    My cranky general chemistry teacher last year told me to switch my major. I was wondering whether people can clarify what sort of talent is needed as people have told me that natural talent is necessary, especially if you plan on to continue to graduate school. This may sound silly but it's been something I've seriously wanted opinions about.
    I've been always pretty good at school and AP exams but I'm good at memorizing and my critical thinking as well as problem solving are severely lacking, especially when it comes to really interesting problems. My classmates who plan to pursue hard sciences seem to have this intuition that I don't have. I feel a bit disheartened and embarrassed.
    Thanks for taking the time to read the post!
  2. jcsd
  3. Jun 17, 2016 #2


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    Natural talent is overrated. If you know how to study, you can overcome whatever deficiencies you currently have in the topic. The barriers to this are mental, not innate. Research has shown that intelligence (both in general and in a particular subject) is only very loosely innate, and those differences can generally be overcome through work. It helps if you actually believe that you can increase your performance in these areas rather than just assuming you have some natural impediment that you can't change. Studies have shown that to be true as well. I recently read a book (https://www.amazon.com/Make-Stick-Science-Successful-Learning/dp/0674729013) that discussed the psychology behind learning and this was one of the topics. It's an interesting (if somewhat dry) read.
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  4. Jun 17, 2016 #3


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    Just for interest :

    Some of the best all round engineers at RR were people that had scraped a few O levels and managed to get on to the technician apprenticeship scheme . Standard progress was usually full time introductory training at RR Technical College then 2-3 years practical training in the factory while studying for ONC/HNC in night classes .

    Most apprentices got through all right and normally moved on to reasonably good technician level jobs .

    Strange thing though . Every year a few of these apprentices managed to get the higher status HND rather than standard HNC .

    HND meant that they could get jobs in the drawing office rather than on the shop floor . They invariably showed considerable flair for design and were soon given the one level of promotion that was available to people with HND qualifications .

    Next thing they went on one of the RR sponsored B.Eng courses and almost always did very well . Some even went on to do M.Sc .

    Most came back to RR as highly capable and knowledgeable engineers who were well respected and often rapidly promoted to become heads of technical departments .

    I think that natural talent must have played a big part in allowing these people to get on so well . It might have remained an undiscovered natural talent though if chance had put them on a different career path where that talent was not recognized and helped to develop .
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2016
  5. Jun 17, 2016 #4


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    Mathematics and at least some Physics will help you improve in your numerical and geometrically numeric problem-solving. This will be important in studying Chemistry also.

    Some talent is natural, inborn; and some talent is acquired. You will need to study. The big problem is failing to recognize a talent in oneself.
  6. Jun 19, 2016 #5


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    Hey Saippo.

    Natural talent does help and I think it would be crazy to say it doesn't.

    Having said that it can be detrimental when it isn't back by hard work and hard work is something that tends to produce results over a long period of time.

    Hard work is something you have control over and it often correlates with getting better which is why people focus more on that than any initial understanding.

    I'd advise you to focus on what you can control - and that is hard work. You can definitely get knowledge on how to perform and achieve results but it's more about knowing where to put your energies in and just working than obsessing about talent and other things you don't have control of.

    Usually in a course - if you find out what outcomes you are being assessed on and find out how to direct your energies to meet the criteria needed to get certain marks (taking into account probability and other factors outside of your control) then that will be the most important thing when it comes to doing well.

    University - like it or not - is a game and you have to first understand the rules of the game before putting in energy to play the game and get the best marks you can based on utilizing whatever resources you have at your disposal (teachers, lecturers, notes, class-mates, etc) and using your own time and effort to make the best use of those resources.

    You can always ask the course coordinator about questions regarding the rules and resources (often specified anyway in course outlines) if you have queries that will help you better succeed. Understanding the nature of the game helps you best understand what you need to focus on and what you don't.
  7. Jun 19, 2016 #6


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    I think natural talent is important up to a point, but past that point hard work matters more. The two or three people I know well who I would say are the most naturally talented in my peer group are very hard workers.

    I also think that one of the most important things you can do to help your intellectual growth is to be willing to learn from others. This is especially important if you go to grad school or do research. When I identify someone I think is especially gifted and who is willing to teach me, I always take the opportunity to learn as much as I can from them. I really think that has helped expand my mind and creativity. You should not let pride or self esteem get in the way of this.
  8. Jun 19, 2016 #7


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    While I cannot rule out the existence of natural talent, this is not something that can be directly quantified and is highly overrated, making many people to get disappointed, thinking that they won't achieve their goals.

    Even if it exists, it can't have equal importance in every human endeavor. In the arts, we often see people be very good in music for instance, in their childhood, so this cannot be explained in any other way than to be gifted for this. But even then, this can be just a manifestation of patient willingness to learn music, for whatever reason. After all, because they like it. In other words, I cannot see a clear definition of talent. The same goes for other forms of art like painting etc. Even if it is pure talent, behind every successful such person, a mountain of hard efforts is hidden and efforts upon disappointments. So, the talent would lead nowhere, without the willingness and hard efforts.

    In science, I don't think that talent - provided that there is such thing, can play the same role as in arts. Every successful scientist, has studied a ton of books and papers and many other resources. A crucial thing among others is analytical thinking and although I cannot argue that this is not something innate - at least to some degree, it is more than sure, that it is something that grows nicely and is developed gradually through proper education, studying and hard work.

    I think that is somewhat unfair for a person to get discouraged, because some others say that he has not the talent to do whatever he/she does. He must put fair efforts first and see where the thing goes. And even if it does not go well, I don't think that there is any kind of real evidence that lack of talent is to blame.

    This clearly shows - if it really is the case, that you must take yourself to a path of developing analytical skills and critical thinking. You have to take yourself through the long path of solving many problems and think deeply about whys and hows and not about mere calculations. Memorizing, is a thing that can't help much beyond high school.
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