…and it is ok
All my life I have been exploring knowledge. I was in a good school, learned so many aspects about the world, life and everything (42). It’s always been my fascination, to keep learning and understanding and connecting concepts ogether to form new knowledge and answer questions that have not been answered before. Even to ask questions never asked before. This is because today I am a fully formed researcher.
Nevertheless I have always struggled with a sense of inadequacy. I feel I don’t know enough, about anything. This is called or is part of the impostor syndrome. I feel like an impostor, but a bachelor degree, two masters and a PhD might indicate I must know something about something!
Sometime ago I saw a very interesting description of what a PhD is, by Matt Might, called The illustrated guide to a Ph.D. He illustrates all knowledge as a circle. When you finish school your knowledge is around the blue and green parts. Then you get a bachelor degree, the orange part, and then you get a master to specialize in an area which is the protrusion in the illustration. When you “zoom in” and specialize a bit more, you are effectively pushing further this boundary of knowledge and you have invented something new. A tiny little nudge to the border, that is the PhD.
In my country, arguably, knowledge is not appreciated and there is a love/hate (or more of a love to hate) relationship towards people who achieve any kind of academic degree. Such people are more often than not, admired and hated. This view makes it so that one sees one’s own academic achievement as more grandiose. Regardless, being a PhD means you went through a lot and you have to keep learning and applying your knowledge in real life problems. This all makes it so, that you see your own PhD from a very “zoomed in” and limited perspective. But it’s important to remain humble and face the reality that your little bubble is a but a tiny aspect of all knowledge humanity has collected.
The thing is, by now, I feel my circle of knowledge looks more like this:
A narrower long protrusion towards my PhD and a whole bunch of other knowledge, some in which I did masters and some of which I just wanted so much to know about that I have invested a lot of time to learn it.
So. I would say I am your typical nerd. I rather study than go out. I rather discuss deep subjects than shallow. I rather understand a topic deeply and be involved in projects than have an overview. This caused me to learn about a lot of things but with limited time and resources, I can only devote my self to so many things and so much depth.
And you know what? I like it and it is ok. This means I can have a conversation with a broader population, I empathize with the struggles they go through learning. I can connect my main knowledge (whatever that is) to their fields so I can talk to them and help them or simply have fun together.
But it has also caused me difficulties. When I am asked to narrow down, or to specialize, or when I am looking for a job, I don’t know what exactly I want, what exactly am I really good for, and where I can really shine and help and be very efficient, these are questions jack of all trades ask themselves.
I am a computer scientist and engineer. When I was pondering a road to follow I chose between medicine and CS. So I went with CS but ended up using a lot of my knowledge in many medical questions for more than a decade now. But I also like videogames, and I always wanted to know about how to make them, not only programming but the concepts and the art and the engines. So along with programming come algorithms, and that field is all over, in all areas, all of you have problems that need solving, I want to solve them efficiently, and solving them efficiently requires algorithms. I also learned about art and design and that led me to both the artistic side of art (forgive my redundancy) and the mathematical side.
So I understand how computers and hardware is built, I understand how they work, how to program them to do whatever I want. And what I have wanted all through my life has been around so many areas of knowledge that I am so tired. I have learned about medicine and biology, I have learned about computer graphics, image and signal processing. I have learned geometry. I have learned about graphic design. I have learned about data analysis and visualization. I have learned about software engineering and good practices. I have learned about Machine Learning. I have learned about 3D, in math and in design. And all of them I have applied or used one way or another using a myriad of available technologies.
I am also interested in things outside science and technology. I sculpt, I like cinema, I like music, I like to understand how societies work, how personal relationships work.
And within all the things I have studied, and all the things I have done as a hobby, there are internal topics and divisions. To give you a “small” example, I love Blender, the 3D software. With it you can model objects, sculpt, rigg, animate, track, video edit, paint, and now you can even do 2D design. That is only from the artistic side. Underneath the enormous powerful beast are 7512342 lines of code, out of which 5228590 are in C, 1577591 are in C++, 465765 are in python, 82635 are in GLSL and the rest in more languages. I wish had not given up on C++, I might return to it one day.
So even when I have been playing around with Blender for like 10 years, I can barely model things and maybe sculpt and maybe animate a few things here and there. But those I do quite ok.
The same thing goes for everything. I know quite some biology of tissue due to my long PhD protrusion, and I know how to analyze images and find cells in them and I know how to teach a computer to find things for me and help me help the bio-person answer their questions from hundreds, thousands or millions of samples.
I know how to design beautiful things, by hand or by code. I know how to make an impactful poster but also how to display information dynamically on some process.
I like to make websites and interactive experiences.
I like to automate everything I can automate.
I like to tinker with electronics (although this is admittedly less well done).
I learn languages and to study them with and without technology
I know how to manage projects and technology projects.
I like to analyze signals and understand how our senses work, both sound and smell.
And for more thoughts on being a jack of all trades and many more topics:
Being a jack of all trades in Blender
To learn 2D in Blender
To learn more about design in bio informatics