On the merits of self-learning
I’ll keep this short and to the point. Graduate school is preparatory training for becomming a research scientist or professor when you complete your degree. As many will discover, it is not solely for the purpose of learning coursework, but rather to learn the fine art of learning. Each time that one prepares a manuscript or reads a relevant publication and evaluates the science behind the results, one exercises the rights and responsibilities we each have as an informed and questioning scientist and citizen. To blindly accept without criticism or understanding is to sit quietly in a classroom and not speak up or ask questions!
So, when the topic of self-learning comes up in the course of a discussion on how to address a simple problem, it pleases me greatly to say that I’ve come to this conclusion wholly of my own volition. As a research scientist, say you encounter a perplexing problem that needs a significant amount of computer programming to address. Rather than simply try to take a class and learn this method in order to apply one aspect of a vast subject to your problem, you would simply hire a technical assistant who specializes in this area.
As a graduate student, one is faced with the unique situation of not having complete ownership of a project muchless the financial and professional means to enlist assistance on that level. A graduate student must learn the delicate task of balancing ones work and research obligations with their own body of knowledge. As one becomes more and more specialized, one might find that they cannot possibly cover every area of a subject well enough to fully know.
I’m rambling at this point, but I stopped to consider the notion that as a graduate student, one can’t just run to their advisor or professor for answers to common problems. Sometimes the professor won’t even have these answers. It becomes the student’s responsibility to find these answers and find methods to answer exceedingly more complex problems. It is the ability to find answers and learn how to acquire these answers, skills and methods on one’s own that sets a research scientist apart from a student.