Venturing into science is like going on an expedition.
Undergraduate science is like walking a well-marked route. Well-marked doesn’t mean flat – there are steep inclines and very little descents. You can see the peaks of sub-disciplines in the distance, but for now they’re fairly far away, and you only need to know the main paths.
At first you head on those paths led by a guide, but you’re also expected to walk that route on your own, and to know every twist, every turn. Sometimes the paths lead through woods, and you can’t see your final goal, but then there are those lucid moments where you burst out of the woods into a well-lit copse, or meadow, and for that short while you can enjoy the sun on your face and the calm.
Once you know the main routes, the different peaks and the views they offer you can once again venture out. This time you’re in an expeditionary team, forging a path up those peaks you had previously spotted. Gear and knowledge is shared, and you’re expected to contribute to that route. Different members take different paths, and not all end at the same altitude, or even on the same peak.
You do this for a while.Time passes, peaks are climbed, new maps are drawn, experience accumulated.
Then at some point you realize that the steep incline which you had to run up has cleared, and only a plateau remains. It affords you an excellent view of your surroundings, and you can see different groups forging different routes.
And now it’s your turn to lead the expedition.The person responsible for a team and their supplies. At first you lead from the front, map and compass in hand. As time goes by you return more and more to base-camp, referring to previously drawn maps, illustrated with your experience, whilst mulling over the finds that different team members share with you. You lead from a distance now, picking out the peaks from afar, at times worrying about how fast other teams are scaling them.
And if you get tired of that plateau, you can always pack up your gear and go off on another expedition up a completely different peak.
But this time it’s different, because although the peak is new, you have acquired many skills, and have a team to deploy. And hence it can be much faster.