With two days left to my oral candidacy exam, I’ve been having an extra-strong experience of the emotional roller-coaster that is grad school in string theory — or, I imagine, any other advanced science.
The problem is, there’s just so much to know. Sure I’m learning things too, but it’s amazing how quickly the perceived relative sizes of the learnt and un-learnt bodies of material change in size over the course of even a day.
It is great to periodically realise that a particularly tricky area (in the most recent case, topological string theory), while still tricky, is easier than it was two years ago — and my resulting understanding is a lot deeper.
Unfortunately, the sense of knowledge often lasts only briefly, until someone’s question, or another paper, makes one look at the concept from another angle. All too often the nice, strong concepts out of which understanding has been built, turn out to be wafer-thin from another perspective, and the whole house of cards comes tumbling down.
And of course, there’s that constant niggle: there must be easier and better-paid jobs out there… But, would I be happy?
Well, back to work…
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