On expressing your ignorance

Few months back, I was in a meeting about spintronic materials, there was one fifth year PhD student from Physics department, during the Q&A session, she claimed.

“I know absolutely nothing about spin-orbit coupling, and I hope in the next student meeting we can figure it out together.” Everybody nodded, Professor said something like great please let us know about the concept you want us to cover in the future, we want to help you to learn.

That really struck a cord in me, I made the exact same statement during a group meeting in 2015, and the group paused and stared at me. Professor then said:”Just to make sure, you are a Physics student, right?”

Since then, “Not Physics student enough” was something that was bothering me when I was working on my Masters research project. I smiled and nodded like a smart angel for every group meeting and colloquium I attended. I tried my best to tuck my ignorance in. When I was confronted, I would try to spin the situation by pretending to know something (by the way, thermal excitation was my first guess for A LOT of questions). And by doing that, I felt like a total piece shit for three years straight.

I still think I am not “Physics student” enough till this day, and that’s probably why I end up in Materials Science and Engineering program instead of Condensed Matter Physics. I wish people were nice when I was expressing my ignorance, people can even throw a book at me and I will read it, give me something instead of making fun of my ignorance.

Why did I suddenly flash back to few months ago and started to gibberish you ask? I was reading papers and textbooks about the low temperature transport properties of Fermi liquid today, and I came across something I don’t really understand, I asked my old colleagues, and they commented “You don’t even know how to ask the right question.” before answering my questions.

Don’t do that, let’s be nice to stupid people.

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