I don’t really like to talk about my university studies here, but I think this warrants mentioning, especially since it ties in with Neal Stephenson, who’ll you remember is speaking at Trinity tomorrow.

In Cryptonomicon, Stephenson makes the following observation:

[Randy is talking about complicated computer stuff to Chester.]

Chester nods all the way through this, but does not rudely interrupt Randy as a younger nerd would. Your younger nerd takes offense quickly when someone near him begins to utter declarative sentences, because he reads into it an assertion that he, the nerd, does not already know the information being imparted. But your older nerd has more self-confidence, and besides, understands that frequently people need to think out loud. And highly advances nerds will furthermore understand that uttering declarative sentences whose contents are already known to all present is part of the social process of making conversation and should not be construed as aggression under any circumstances.

Obviously this doesn’t just apply to computer nerds, but any discipline in which there is a large body of information floating about, such as, say, biology. What Stephenson describes, however, is only part of the problem I am encountering with archetypical young biology nerds; some seem to believe that all discourse in a professional setting should be confrontational, especially when your peers are present to view point-scoring.

This is completely counterproductive and, I would venture, a waste of time. I don’t mind criticism – I would prefer constructive criticism but I know it’s not always available. However, I do mind criticism for criticism’s sake, which generally results in ridiculous niggles over minor points that would clear themselves up if you thought about them for a few minutes. Sigh.

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