The Only True Wisdom is Knowing You Know Nothing

I’ve been lurking on PubMed for three months now.

I know the time has come for me to make a decision regarding what direction to go in with my project/s, but it’s so cosy here in PubMed land.  I can’t make any mistakes and no-one can tell me I’m doing anything wrong. Even though I have an idea/ ideas, and my supervisor and co-workers are supportive of it, I’m still terrified about going forward with it.

I was talking to my supervisor about this fear; that someone will tell me that my research is a waste of time, or someone will spot me for what I really am i.e. just a person, not a Scientist! She reassured me that everyone can feel this way, especially first year PhD students. Another friend told me that if I really care this much about my field and what my peers think of my work, then that automatically makes me a good scientist, so I shouldn’t be afraid of making the wrong choices.

My unconscious theory before these discussions was: I’ll read everything so that I can come to understand everything, then I can make a decision based on everything, and no-one can question me because I’ll know everything!

It’s only really after admitting this strategy to myself that I realised how ridiculous I was being. To quote Socrates,

“The only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.”

…which is all well and good, but scientists have to meet in the middle here. We can’t jump into projects and experiments without forethought or planning: but a 1st year PhD student can’t be expected to understand an entire research field before they have even begun to work in it.

I think a less dubious individual than me might not have gone through these motions, but I have. Thankfully, I’m not doing this alone, and after a pretty hefty discussion with my supervisor, I think we both realised the only way I was going to move forward was if she pushed me off the edge. So we’ve got the gear ordered, and I’ll be stepping into the unknown (like there is anything else) any day now.