Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Seasoned Professional or Impassioned Amateur

I spent a very pleasant week last week in Boston at a physics conference. You might think that the two things are mutually exclusive, but i have to admit that i relish any opportunity to indulge my inner geek, and 8000 people who have the same interest in the amazing variety of the world around us gave a perfect vent to that! One evening, i was having dinner with my PI (Principal Investigator, just like in Magnum PI, perhaps an over-fancy term for boss!), and he proffered the opinion that the physics world divides roughly into two camps. So let me introduce the two groups of protagonists:

On the one hand, we have the seasoned professionals, the people who pursue their art with an enthusiasm borne of the pride they take in their achievements. These are people who can work enormous hours driven by their contribution to history - they publish incredible papers, but they could turn this laser-like focus to other avenues and be successful.

On the other, we find the impassioned amateurs. people who's love of the subject matter in particular drives them forwards, and who would probably still do physics in their spare time. They achieve not through a drive for success but through sheer nosiness, and through a fascination with the rules of the world.

This is not to say that either group is in some sense "better" or more successful than the other, it's merely an expression of people's motivation for doing what is, after all, not always a very rewarding subject!

It occurred to me that the same is true almost universally, but that it also equally applies to cyclists - there are people who race bikes to taste the sweetness of victory and to push themselves to be as good as they can be (the professionals) and there are the people who race their bikes because, win or lose, they love every minutes that they are on two wheels. I think i know which camp i fall into in both physics and cycling, but it's an interesting thought experiment to imagine myself in the other camp. So which is it, do you consider yourself an amateur or a pro?

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