In a tweet a few days ago, David Bacon
wonders why everyone always assumes all he can do is quantum computing? Oh, because that's all he's done. Time to do something new?What David (aka the Quantum Pontiff) says can apply to any discipline. Are you a narrow researcher? Take my simple one question test.
Do all your co-authors know each other?Being narrow has some advantages but mostly disadvantages.
- You can really know an area. Particularly in a field like quantum computing which has steep learning curve before you can become and remain an active researcher.
- Your are part of a very tight community. These people know you well. You look forward to seeing them at workshops and conferences. They can write you wonderful recommendation letters (and vice versa).
- On the flip side, you don't know many outside your research area and they don't know you.
- Narrow researchers often lose themselves in the minutiae of the field, looking at questions whose importance seems obvious from those inside the field but impossible to explain to outsiders.
- You tend to go to smaller and focused workshops and conferences because the majority of the broader meetings have little that interest you. This further isolates you from the larger community.
- As David laments, others view you as focused and unable to solve problems outside your field.
- As your field loses importance, so do you.
- There are fewer grant programs you can apply to, and you have co-authored with most of the people who could properly evaluate your research, making them ineligible to review your proposals.
It's fine for a graduate student to remain focused for their dissertation research. But even then best to take advantage of your university's offerings and take courses in a broad range of topics. As a post-doc or young assistant professor, you should talk to other professors and ask them about their problems. You'd be surprised how much the tools, models and techniques of one field can apply in another. But be careful, others get upset if you try and impose your field's beliefs on their fields.
Many successful senior researchers will completely change fields a few times in their career, taking a year or more off, maybe during as Sabbatical, to learn the background and important problems of another area and then start tackling those questions.