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Monday 18 August 2014

Thinking about Things We Don't Know

Things We Don't Know Venn diagram

Since starting in June, I’ve had a lot of fun with Ed and the team here at Things We Don’t Know. I’ve learnt a lot about where research is headed in several different fields, and I’ve spoken to some pretty cool people about what they do in research. I’ve learnt many things from this internship, here are a few of the less science-y (kind of) things:
  1. There are so many things we don’t know!
  2. Seems kind of obvious, what with common sayings such as, “We know more about space than our oceans”. However, I didn’t realise there are things we don’t about almost everything. Birds, ocean currents, the inner workings of our own minds – we are constantly learning more and more about our own surroundings despite them being the most familiar things to us, and working here has made me so much more aware of that fact.

  3. Priority is key
  4. I used to think time-management was a fairly good skill of mine, until I realised I was keeping up with the small things but not necessarily being on top of everything. Sometimes you have to sacrifice smaller jobs for later, to be able to get a big task done on time. Recognising the importance of each task is a little more difficult – sometimes it relies purely on the deadline. Once you’ve nailed that side of things managing your time effectively becomes much more of a doddle.

  5. Be a zombie
  6. I don’t mean walk around slowly dribbling a bit, I’m talking about eating brains! I’ve been working with people who are experts in many different fields. Picking these big brains has been a huge perk of this job, I’ve learnt many useful tips and tricks which I can now take and use in whichever job I end up doing. People don’t generally mind having their brains picked either, everyone here has been more than happy to teach me.

  7. It’s hard to leave your own ideas out of objective writing
  8. Writing about unanswered questions makes it difficult to not plant your own theories or ideas into the writing. This is a big no-no for TWDK. The aim here is not to push one idea more than the other, or to find out the answer but to make the questions known to readers and followers, so they can think about it in their own time.

  9. Churnalism is way too prominent
  10. This is a phrase I learnt half-way through my internship, it refers to that kind of journalism where articles get churned out one after the other without stopping to think that maybe, this story isn’t relevant today, or actually it’s just not that interesting. Thanks to TWDK I now recognise it a bit more, and hopefully can avoid joining the churnalism career.

  11. Wizards didn’t do it, science did
  12. More often than not, I’d come across a story which sounds way too out of this world to be true, a time-stopping invisibility cloak for example, or gravitational signal detectors. Usually it turned out that these wacky contraptions were theoretical, but that doesn’t mean they can’t ever be made. The more I read about what researchers can do, the more convinced I am that physicists are actually wizards, and Hogwarts is actually a castle filled with post-grads who never took their graduation robes off.

  13. Believe nothing, double-check everything.
  14. Or, sometimes the wacky contraption would just be complete folly. Sometimes, a phrase or a word can get misconstrued in newspapers or blogs, giving a whole different meaning to the piece. Sometimes, understanding is lacking between professor and journalist (I know a few of the research papers I read just went straight over my head) resulting in an article which doesn’t quite mean what it says. TWDK are hot on references, so before anything is published making any claims I make sure I’ve got reliable information.

  15. Enjoy what you write!
  16. If you’re not enjoying what you’ve written, then you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone else it’s worth reading. Writing is a creative skill, so be creative with it – there’s no point sticking to a classic style, as long as the piece fits with what’s required for the job then you can let your own style sing.
photograph of Grace Mason-Garrett in the TWDK London office
Grace in our London office.
Photograph ©TWDK
Above all, I’ve discovered my own love for the mysteries of science. It’s the enigma that keeps us all interested, and our determinism to find out the answer is what moves research along. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s also put humans in space and in the deepest parts of the oceans. I do not believe there will ever be a time when there are no more things we don’t know, because the more we learn the more beautifully baffling and complex life appears to us.

This article was written by our summer physics intern Grace Mason-Garrett. It's been a pleasure working with you Grace - we wish you the very best with the rest of your degree and future career!

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