I guess this has to be discussed because of how the current research methodology affects to many young scientist.
I would dare to say that one of the main reasons that many people enters research is because they want to discover something new.
Then I’ll compare that to climb a mountain, bur not just any mountain, but one that you don’t know how it is, where it is, or if exists at all!
Then how shall proceed someone that has only theoretical knowledge in mountaineering and has done a couple of treks in hills (a fresh graduate)?
Well that’s difficult. One would like to climb to climb the Everest, as the famous saying goes, because is there! But climbing the Everest is not easy, and worst, it has already been climbed…
So what the supervisors want you to do? well, get you in shape so you can be a Sherpa to carry on helping them climb.
And what they want you to climb? certainly not something that is not known how it is, and even less something you don’t know if exists at all.
What any sensitive person would do is make you climb something extensively surveyed, that has a clear path and peak (goal) and that might have been climbed already, but in a different way.
That’s sensitive, then many supervisor can be, well, not sensitive…
And then for the aspiring mountaineer that might seem dull and purposeless. What’s the reason to climb something known if there are many exiting mountains out there untouched?
Well the thing is both are right and both are wrong.
It is right to train
One one hand, First you shall be prepared, and the difficult part is that depends on the mountain it might take more or less effort to get on shape (skills), and you might need more or less people on shape and specialized roles to get there (teamwork).
Otherwise you will fail or get lost, which is a nice way of training too, but difficult to justify to a funding agency.
Second lets be realistic, not everybody can climb a brand new mountain. Most of mountaineers keep climbing the same ones, maybe in slightly different ways and times. Still I know some that keep climbing unclimbed 6000ers :D.
Therefore you shall not be frustrated if you never claim a new one, unless you REALLY want to climb an unclimbed one.
It’s right to try
So, on the other hand, first if someone is really motivated you shall not waste the energy, determination and motivation of these by doing dull hike or sherpa work. What one might lack on skills can be compensated by pure determination, confidence, fearless and instincts that might be different for a young unweathered mountaineer.
Second, it’s good too let the determined try and encourage and help them instead of the opposite. It’s a nice bet that in the worst case might end in failure but in the best you might climb or discover that mountain! Since it’s a unknown one maybe even one inexperienced mountaineer can clam it, as the skills required might also be something original.
It’s worth the try, at least for some part of the time.
Creativity not encouraged
Unfortunately the way I see science now I would say that creativity is not encouraged, to be the least pessimistic. That limits the exploration capability.
That’s what most seems to be about.
If you are confident that’s what will push you to struggle trough. If you are confident you can attempt the unknown. If you are confident and motivated you will push against any hardship to find the way.
But what brings confidence? Well in this system it is the most dull of things, marks for fresh graduates, and number of publications for seniors. Hardly something to attempt crazy endeavors.
What shall bring confidence is skills and encouragement in breakthrough thinking.
Yeah, not all the time, not blind encouragement, but hell we are scientists, we shall find a better and more engaging way of exploring.
What is stopping the encouragement then?
Many things, the ones that can be changed are the expectations of having a publishable outcome, and all the funding system and CV building. What hardly can be changed is the complexity and difficulty of pushing new frontiers and the need of highly skilled and specialized labour for that.
One way forward?
Since the world out there is so big, there shall be room to create a system that pushes the dreamers and explores to brand new fields, and the hardworkers and skilled to expand the old ones.
There is a wold out there, let’s be wise in how to climb it 😀