jack of all trades


by Jonghoon Kim


"Jack of all trades, and master of none" A formerly eminent doyen in the chemistry circle, my grandfather often told me this axiom. Although his advice sometimes discouraged my broad interest over all subjects and gadgets, I continued nurturing the fascination. Since I preferred studying several intriguing subjects and handling innovative gadgets to delving into only one subject, I would emulate Leonardo da Vinci rather than selecting Albert Einstein as the role model. I just vaguely envied those who could devote their time to one domain then. Such view point underwent dramatic transformations during high school life.

In high school, I enjoyed studying diverse subjects, ranging from science and statistics to history and economy. Although I had intensively studied science - especially chemistry - from middle school, I gave up preparing for the chemistry olympiad devotedly because it took too much time for me to enjoy numerous other subjects. Afterward, I took the largest number of AP tests, and got the highest average grades among those early graduators, along with the highest GPA among them. I marveled at the prodigies of nature while studying quantum mechanics, the bridge of the macroscopic and microscopic world, while learning the miraculously precise order of genes, and while listening to the lecture concerning a brain's complex processing of memory and sense. I also became astonished at the exciting humanities while I became Rene Descartes in front of Discours de la Methode, his greatest work, and while I learned the intriguing theory and models in economy. Similarly, I was delighted and good at learning various subjects, which I studied thinking "since we acquire comfort after death, we should do what we really like during life time." Then, although I somewhat regretted my inability to concentrate on one subject, I did not regret my giving up studying chemistry intensively because I could learn various exciting subjects instead.

One day, one of my closest friends received a gold medal in the International Physics Olympiad. My friends and teachers highly praised him, probably evaluating him much higher than me who was not noticeably distinguished in one particular subject. I envied him not only his high standing in public estimation but also his power of concentration on one subject, physics. Even I admitted his seemingly "superiority" to me then. I agonized about my school life in which I studied numerous AP courses and English, instead of studying chemistry intensively for the International Chemistry Olympiad. Although he was my close friend, he indirectly gave me much anguish. Under such mental pressure, I found my endless interest in various subjects and objects to be somewhat needless. My eyes began to notice those eminent people who only research about one particular subject, such as computer programming, chemistry, economy, or medicine. Until then, I did not recognize how to utilize my aptitude.

After a party he threw to commemorate the prize, I took a taxi to go home. The taxi driver was using GPS, Global Positioning System which freely provides information of the location, speed of the taxi and the fastest path to the destination. I imagined genii inventing the satellite and the algorithm of GPS...but what kind of genii? those in geology? Computer programming? Astronomy? No, it was the co-product of all geologists, computer programmers, and astronomers. And there might be those who connect such specialists and who excel in all of these fields. Yes, there was prominent future for those "non-extraordinary" persons who excel in various fields to similar extent, like me. Then I saw a new promising path for my future.

From that moment, I began to view the world the other way; although the specialists may be the best in traditional fields such as chemistry, biology, and physics, I, the "non-extraordinary" person, could connect these fields and produce a unique domain. To illustrate, since I am good at biology, chemistry, physics, statistics and computer programming, I can connect these fields with psychology and philosophy to become a brain scientist. Now, network system serves a great deal of works in our lives, and began to incorporate other domains. My aunt is a co-CEO of a company which connects various medicine and Bio-technology companies through the network system. In other words, interconnection among various subjects became the essence which is about to flood as facilitated by the network system.

As I view the world differently, I began to see those who excelled in various fields, not those specialists in one subject. In fact, Leonardo da Vinci has been of my primary role model from elementary school. An embodiment of "Renaissance man," da Vinci excelled in nearly every field, from arm-engineering and drawing to architecture and anatomy. Such a Renaissance man was possible because, at that time, students were taught disciplines that were not specifically distinguished from one another. Flowing from one subject to another, Lenoardo da Vinci had probably enjoyed the delight of perceiving and manipulating the connection among distinct fields, producing unique products that remain as the human heritage, if not the domain of God. Confucius said the talented are not the vessels; rather, they could be contained in any vessels. Namely, the really talented can learn anything as water can be contained in any vessels.

Similarly, I should study and interconnect numerous subjects in order to excel in various fields, as did da Vinci. On the day a lecturer came to our school to explain what brain science deals with, many students could not understand the lecture well because they lacked comprehensive knowledge about science. For instance, biology students tended not to know what MIR is, while physics students did not understand what acetylcholine does, and some chemistry students failed to grasp the term synapse. But I understood very well, because I studied biology, chemistry and physics all together. In the lecture, the enigmatic nature of brain's memory and sense processing impressed me very much, inspiring me to become an eminent brain scientist. From elementary school, my prospective side-job has been an inventor. Both two jobs would require knowledge from several fields; as illustrated above, brain research needs as basic tools chemistry, biology, psychology, philosophy, physics, statistics and computer programming while an inventor should know fundamental principles in science to build scientifically safe inventions and economy for enterprise. Although I admit I might not be the master of the purely specialized fields, such as chemistry or physics, I hope I can become the master of comprehensive domains such as brain science and invention. If I continue my broad interest in every matter, I can achieve the dream I have cherishingly drawn in my mind, and someday will have resembled my role model.

A Korean saying goes "If you want to have a well, dig only one hole." Yet, the time of "digging only one hole" is not the main current as the time of using well passed; now, one should connect various fields into unique domains. I will dig several holes, and connect and make use of them through water pipes in a full water supply, an infrastructure of knowledge in the future.

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