A few words on research

I have been busy writing my thesis for the past few weeks, and so haven’t been able to keep this blog updated. I submitted my thesis yesterday–finally! Actually the submission deadline was last month, and when that day came I still didn’t know how I was going to end my thesis. I have had difficulties with the theory (I still do now), but I’m glad that I could end the thesis at the point I had set myself where it should have ended. Though I think there are still plenty of rooms for enquiries, I had to stop somewhere and leave those rooms open for future works.

Some time ago during my first year as a graduate student I wrote these words on the overleaf of my logbook: Research is about humility to do that which a non-researcher is also capable of doing. What do I mean by this? Well, I tend to think that one has not really pursued anything worth pursuing if the thing he is pursuing is something that others are also capable of pursuing. But I think this is a kind of arrogance. What rights have I to judge the capabilities of others? And so I coined the sentence. I found that being a researcher really doesn’t mean that he has to be exceptional. What is required is just the opposite: he needs to know well that others are also capable of doing the same thing he does. The starting point is humility. Only then can he enquire on anything without restraint. The sole motivation becomes a desire to know the beauty of nature–the attributes of God that He has revealed in His creation. One may be discouraged to realise that he has not done anything worthwhile. But how does one decide which is worth pursuing and which is not? If he does so without humility, then I doubt that there will be many options to choose from, and it is likely that he will lose interest as soon as he knows something about the thing he is enquiring. Why? Because when he realises that he knows something about it, he may think, “Why? This is not so difficult. Others can do the same thing. Why should I continue doing what others can do?” and so he ends up not willing to pursue the thing any further. How could one embark on a research this way? What is required instead is a willingness to do what he knows others are capable of doing.

This is a struggle which I also face, and it is not easy. But I have to embrace this: that the discoveries a researcher makes of nature are rediscoveries of the joy of knowing the Lord of nature. And I need to spur myself on by learning that all creation points towards the Lord of creation. To quote loosely what Wolterstorff said, all vocations are callings for us to be His witnesses, agents, and evidences of His glory.

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