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How to independently study a subject you know (almost) nothing about

  1. Aug 24, 2014 #1
    Do you use some sort of system to reach a level of level of comprehension in a field you are fairly new to?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 24, 2014 #2
    As a passionate self-studier, I can tell you how I do it.

    In the old days, before you-tube, it was (in my opinion) much harder to self-study than it is these days. The simple reason is that there was no internet and there were very few even popular (science) tv shows on various subjects. If you wanted to self-study a subject, you actually had to have some self-discipline and bike (or drive) down to the campus or public library and use those facilities. Once there, even before you could do any actual studying, you had to navigate the "search" feature of the library which, again back in the day, consisted of navigating a bank of large, formidable-looking card catalogues :eek:

    The end result was that, by the end of the day, you were happy to find just about any material at all on a new subject you wanted to study, and it was often-times too specialized, too advanced, and subsequently discouraging of future pursuit. Much easier just to take a class and have it spoon fed to you.

    However, undiscouraged myself, I was after a while to develop what I thought to be pretty good program to attack a new subject using a hierarchical "top down" approach. I would start by "easing myself into the subject" by watching any popular tv show I could find on it to get a broad overview. After that, I would read popular magazines/periodicals on the subject, such as Scientific American, which typically would narrow my interest down a bit further. At this point, it is a good idea to go to the library and start reading general college textbooks on the subject, focusing on the chapters that interest you. Finally, if everything goes well, you may be interested in some readings in the textbook to where you start mining the reference list, which leads to non-fiction books on target subjects, book chapters in collections, and, most importantly, scholarly journal articles.

    So that's the route I have traditionally taken. These days the game is different because of the internet but the general principle is still the same, Top-down. These days if I want to self-study a new subject, I just type it into a youtube search, kick back and just start watching videos until I find a series that is comfortable for my level of understanding. I eventually find my way to the journal articles, but its more of a nonlinear path to get there. It's also, in my opinion, more efficient and less time consuming. You can rule out fields of study you are not interested in much faster, and you can find content much faster and there's much, much, more content to choose from. So, for the self-studier, these are good days..:tongue:
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