If you find a subject dull, time to shoot the messenger, says Matthew Partridge.
We all have subjects we hate, and subjects we love. Sometimes it can be clear why we have those strong feelings and other times it’s like an innate reaction. Scientific research is a group of fields that is so broad and diverse that it seems impossible to not come across areas that you instantly love or hate.
For example, at university I hated immunology. It was the most ridiculously complicated subject, as if the worst parts of protein biochemistry and genetics had been smashed together in some union of boring, impenetrable information.
In the year I had to take immunology I learnt precisely two things from my lecturer. Firstly, that immunology was a subject that I was never going to work in and secondly, I was going to fail the immunology section of my exam papers later that year. As it turned out I was right about only one of these things.
My first job out of university was developing immunodiagnostics because that is how the universe works. I was a fresh undergraduate and I could only afford to be picky about jobs if I could also afford to not eat food.
At the time I remember thinking that I would try to focus on the non-immunology bits (mostly, making up PBS bottles) and hope to pick up information as I needed it. I also bought myself a copy of a very snazzy looking immunology textbook in the hope that somehow the information would move into my brain by informational osmosis (there was a significant knowledge gradient).
There are plenty of subjects where the problem isn’t the subject, it’s been the way I’ve approached it (or in some cases the way the subject has approached me)
But, despite never opening the book, within a few short weeks I had grasped the basics of the immunodiagnostic test. By the end of the first year, I was giving talks on behalf of the company on how the technology worked. And I genuinely loved it.
It turned out the problem wasn’t with immunology, it turned out that the problem was with the immunology lecturer. Immunology wasn’t impenetrable and boring, they managed to just make it that way for me. Now I don’t mean to throw shade on my teacher, maybe they were amazing; just clearly not at reaching me.
And immunology isn’t the only subject for which this this has been true. There are plenty of subjects where the problem isn’t the subject, it’s been the way I’ve approached it (or in some cases the way the subject has approached me).
Science and research are diverse, and I think to get the most out of certain subjects you need to look at things differently. It’s likely to be different for different people and different subjects but instead of reading endless journals about a subject, try mixing it up and watching some YouTube videos, reading some articles, or even reading some cartoons... it might make it suddenly seem a lot less hateable.
Now I accept there are limits. There will always be some subjects that even the best teachers or learning content won’t be able to make seem fun, exciting and interesting. But we’ve grouped all those subjects under the heading ‘organic chemistry’ so they are easily avoided. I am just joking, I love organic chemistry and will continue to love it as long as no one makes me do it.
Dr Matthew Partridge is a researcher, cartoonist and writer who runs the outreach blog errantscience.com