Thursday, October 22, 2009

Are you a thinker or do-er?

Many of the grad students I have encountered over the years can be broadly classified into 2 types - the thinkers and the do-ers. Thinkers refer to those who are typically strong in the academic theoretical concepts, and are very much at home playing with complex mathematical equations and the like. Do-ers on the hand, are more comfortable building machines/equipments from the ground up and are very much hands-on, somewhat like those 'garage scientists' we used to read about when young. The research groups that the grad students choose to join very often mirror their status as a 'thinker' or a 'do-er'. Rare are the few who are both 'thinker' and 'do-er'.

Most of the Singaporean students I met here in the US are more of the 'thinker' type, and I suspect it has a lot to do with our academic background (majority with 'A' level qualifications) - the 'A' levels stress more on theory than practicals and the fact that most Singaporeans don't have the luxury of having a 'workshop' room in their house. Plus we are more used to buying what we need off the shelf.

Using myself as an example - as an 'engineer' I did not build my first working machine (a unique 3-flow heat exchanger) until my undergrad senior year capstone project as part of a 2-person team. It was a steep learning curve to say the least - we were given only 5 weeks to

1. get a prototype up and running
2. provide analytical solutions that predict the steady state temperature profiles of all 3 fluid streams and
3. verify the temperatures experimentally.

You can imagine the sense of accomplishment I felt when everything worked as it should (which is not always the case in research).

That said, I am still more of a thinker than a do-er although the years of being a grad student and now a postdoc have made me into more of a do-er.

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