Lindau Lessons: Its OK to be ignorant

In June 2016, 21 young Indian scientists made a trip to the beautiful island of Lindau, in south west Germany, to attend the 66th Lindau Nobel Laureates Meeting, dedicated this year to physics. In this sunny side of Germany, 29 Nobel Laureates met with 400 young scientists from 80 countries in an informal setting, which has come to be celebrated as the hallmark of these meetings.

On a boat trip from Lindau to Mainau island, Nature India caught up with the Indian delegation consisting of master’s students, PhDs and Post-docs, freshly chosen every year since 2001 by India’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) in collaboration with the German Research Foundation (DFG) to be part of this science extravaganza. In this blog series ‘Lindau lessons‘, Nature India will bring to you the unique experience of some of the young scientists from India who basked in the Lindau sun this yearJoin their online conversation using the #lindaulessons hashtag.

Today, we hear from Nishchal Dwivedi, a PhD student at the Bhabha Atomic research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai, who dwells upon why being ignorant about large areas in your field of research is fine, as long as you keep working towards overcoming this ignorance with a consistent quest for new knowledge.

Nishchal Dwivedi holding the Nobel Prize medal of Klaus von Klitzing, 1985 physics Nobel Laureate. Klitzing let the participants take pictures with his prize to encourage them to feel how approachable it is.

Nishchal Dwivedi holding the Nobel Prize medal of Klaus von Klitzing, the 1985 physics Nobel Laureate. Klitzing let young researchers take pictures with his prize to encourage them to feel how approachable it is.

One of the most celebrated meetings, almost an annual pilgrimage for many Nobel Laureates, is the Lindau Nobel Laureate meet which is held on the shores of Lake Constance, one of the mighty beautiful lakes at the northern foot of Alps, with stalwarts in the field of education. I was picked as part of the 21-member team of physics students (graduate students, PhDs and postdocs) from India through a country-wide selection process that included a written essay and recommendation letters from our home institutes.

One of the most overwhelming things was the presence of the 29 Nobel Laureates happily giving us a peek into their vast knowledge. Despite coming from such different fields of study, it was very interesting how they often resonated similar philosophies.

The Lindau Nobel Laureates meet has made me a better researcher. As a student, we often get frustrated because of failures and ignorance. While doing research, we often find that despite being passionate about the subject, we remain ignorant about large areas of the discipline. Meeting these Laureates made me realise that they are all driven by a common force: the love and passion to explore the unknown.

This story of passion for the subject echoed in the oft-cited, powerful thought — it is ok to fail, as long as you keep up the hard work. Trying again and again, doing what you are zealous about despite the circumstances, is part of the journey to become a great researcher and that journey should be enjoyed, rather than being a cause for frustration. Being ignorant is fine until we keep working to overcome it with a consistent quest for new knowledge. This is the biggest message I am taking home from Lindau.

On the boat trip from Lindau to Mainau island

On the boat trip from Lindau to Mainau island

Meeting so many like-minded researchers and students from all over the world was a prodigious experience. My most cherished moment was the realisation that despite all the differences in tastes, cultures and philosophies, we were all able to become friends and share ideas, strung together by one common connection — the vehement vigour to do science. This subtle realisation made me feel part of a global intellectual society working on questions which will continue to reverberate long after the meet and contribute to human well being.

There are many students who may do very well in basic science research but they are anxious because of the long term commitment involved. I just have a message of encouragement for them — unlike other fields, research is curiosity- and creativity-driven and not driven by monetary benefits. It quenches the fundamental human instinct of inquisitiveness, which leads to an immense satisfaction of solving important problems for the society and to contribute to our understanding of the workings of Nature — and that is a far bigger canvas to paint.

This article, Lindau Lessons: Its OK to be ignorant, first appeared on Indigenus.