Why not to write about Feynman in the SOP?

            I wrote about Richard Feynman a few days back. It must have been pretty clear that I am very impressed by Feynman. He has had a huge impact on my life. I have loved reading about his pranks and adventures like most do, but I have also loved reading and hearing his lectures unlike many who just like to read the funny stories and think his lectures have no content. I have listened to his messenger lectures and I think must have inspired many into taking up physics. What more can you ask from a teacher. A teacher is there to guide and quite obviously that seems to work for his students as many have gone on the record saying he was one of the best teachers ever.

            I am presently applying for graduate studies in US universities and one thing that I was told by many, was not to include Richard Feynman in my SOP. They say it makes my application look like normal. Maybe that true, but removing Feynman from my life would take away one of the fundamental reasons why I love physics so much. I love its intricacies and yet the beauty that lies in simple laws take my breadth away. I have always liked Physics but I learned to love physics from Feynman. I once read this on a website . The author said that you need to have a better reason to go to graduate school than Feynman. I think he’s wrong. What are teachers for? why are the documentary films made on science and scientists? I think it is to inspire people to follow something. No common child begins by magical attraction to something, he is not born loving physics, or any other subject for that matter. Even Feynman was inducted into physics and questioning physical events by his father. His father served as his inspiration to love physics.

            What does this person want me to do? to love physics or some subject right out of my mother’s womb? What should serve ideally as an inspiration for graduate studies? some research experience? I have that and yes I was inspired in learning Radar and RF and photonics and remote sensing by my experience at Bose Institute, but I was inspired to continue learning by Feynman. Without Feynman’s drive I probably would not have been able to keep searching and finding an internship in the first place. Yes, experiences mold our lives, but inspirations keep us going. And I dare anyone to come up and say Feynman was not inspiring.

            I have not, I could not keep Feynman out of my SOP. I could not have lived with myself knowing that I had to invent new ideas to why I want to study and not take a job and settle down like most of my friends. That would have been dishonest and plain wrong on my part. I can take the easy way out, if all I want is to go to US. Does that mean I don’t want to go to US? NO! I want to go but because I want to have an adventure, meet new people and experience new things. That’s why I want to go to US for, not why I want to go to graduate school for. If I wanted to go to US then I can take a holiday trip. Why do I want to go to US for graduate studies? the answer is no, I don’t want to go to US for graduate studies, if Madagascar or Chile had the best education system then I would have wanted to go there for graduate studies. I want to go to *US* for graduate studies simply because they have the best system of education, if while learning new things I get to see a foreign land, make a few friends, eat new food then that’s the way I want to do it. If I get to see US while my graduate studies then that’s the way I want it to be.

            I have been told by US return people that the mindset of US universities is changing. They are coming away from the adage “research for the sake of research”, and concentrating more on whats going to contribute to the society. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. The species strives to better itself through generations and knowledge. We should all look for ways to contribute to the society. Feynman at one point during his experience of the Challenger investigation wanted to give up. Luckily his sister inspired him not to, at that point he wanted to make a contribution, and not because he was still loving the adventure, he was clearly frustrated by the red-tape by then. He too looked to make a contribution. That he like many of his generation went to study physics simply because they loved physics is perhaps true, and I also believe in his creedo that we should not pre-determine what we want to find. Don’t you feel the tinge of excitement when you have a breakthrough in a puzzle, Feynman did too. He lived for that excitement, never giving up on problems, but that means he wanted to solve the problem and that’s why he was still trying. What he really means by “not pre-determining the preferred outcome” is simply to accept if the answer comes to 88 and not 100, even though 100 would have meant a great discovery. I still believe in “research for the sake of research”, but I also want to contribute to the society.

             Living in India, I do understand why people want honors. I understand why the noble prize must be so important. I do understand why people want to be famous. But as you might expect I must have been influenced by Feynman’s distaste for honors, as I don’t see why the Noble Prize should be some people’s life target. I have been told this, whenever I tell them I want to be a scientist, “OH! so you will bring the noble prize to India?”. NO! I won’t, I want to contribute not win prizes. Being human it would be nice if everyone appreciated my work, but if they don’t, or if I don’t gain International fame, then I won’t be disappointed. Fame is something you can’t expect, you can want it all you want, but you can’t expect it. I don’t think that if somehow you go back in time and ask a younger Feynman or Einstein, as to whether they think they would one day be famous, I think they will laugh on your face. I don’t think Einstein could have expected himself to become the image of Einstein we have come to associate him with, I don’t think Einstein could have expected to become Einstein.


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