It’s often surprising how different people can bring different approaches to the same problem, but in a way that gets you moving forward. I experienced a good example last week. A PhD student has been tangled in a nasty net of circuit analysis, trying to understand how a particular circuit does what it does. I’ve been helping him out on this, as has an electronics professor here.
After a couple of head-scratching meetings, between which we all were thinking about what was going on, we cracked it. I think the key thing was that all three of us were talking about it together. We each had grasped different aspects of what was going on, and, putting them together, we got it assembled into a complete picture. I think if we had attempted to solve it individually, we would probably still be at it, maybe for a while yet. This of course is much to the relief of the PhD student concerned, who can now move on.
It’s a fairly trivial example, but one that drives home the fact that progress is quicker when you collaborate, particularly when you talk to people whose strengths are in areas different to yours. Shaun Hendy, a fellow sciblogger, has talked a lot about innovation networks, NZ as a city of four million, and the like.
So I very much encourage students to talk with each other when studying. They are likely to learn far more by interacting with their peers rather than talking directly with me. (Of course they can take this too far and hand in identical assignments, which sometimes happens, but the fact that they want to think about a problem together is good). Plus. when they get out into industry and have to tackle real problems, that’s the sort of thing they’ll have to do.