Monday open question: what should you learn from other people’s research?

I am a firm believer in the importance of a university-level education, though not for learning any trade-skill level set of facts – there are much better places to learn those than at a University! University education should not be about what to think but how to think. When I was an undergraduate in Mathematics, it was less about memorizing the precise proofs then learning the idea behind how to prove things (especially within a given class).

I have just returned from visiting several labs at other Universities that are very geographically very away from my home lab. Each University, for historical or other reasons, has a set of questions that is predominant in a way that it is not at another University. Perhaps one is smaller and collaborative and so you have many people at least touching on similar questions, thinking it through in similar ways. Perhaps another has a strong tradition in several fields which they have tried to keep up.

When visiting these labs, what should I care about? The specific facts? Or the way they are thinking about their problems? Data is great, but what help is it in the absence of a framework to understand it? Should I be remembering the exact details of experiments, or how it fits in and modifies my framework to understand the brain?

(Note that this got me into trouble at least once with a vague thought about the balance of excitation/inhibition in cortex but realizing I don’t know any of the references I was basing it off of…)


One thought on “Monday open question: what should you learn from other people’s research?

  1. Facts smacts. Though I guess some facts are important, and references are good. I’m more interested in the ‘trajectory’ of people’s research. What are they doing and why?

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