Field of Science

What does it take to be an expert?

Someone somewhere came up with the idea that it took 10,000 hours of “practice” to become an expert.  However this is in part a quite silly idea.  TPP could devote 10,000 hours practicing the violin, and at the end of that time, he would not be a violinist of any sort although maybe turkey in the straw would not be out of reach. A certain amount of talent and aptitude are also required at the starting point, meaning that if you have already shown that you are pretty proficient and capable as a violinist, then it takes maybe 10,000 hours of practice and time spent with able teachers to elevate yourself to the entry level of what could be considered an expert. 10,000 hours is a lot of time. That’s 2000 hours a year for 5 years, the amount of time it took TPP to earn masters and PhD degrees. So TPP entered into that 5 year period with a reasonable aptitude and ability to learn science and an undergrad knowledge of biology.  And if you continue with the math, you can get to 2000 a year with 40 weeks of work at 50 hours per week.  This is not an unreasonable number for being a half time student, a half time scientist-in-training, and a half time teacher (yes, that is one and a half.).  So, yes, after 10,000 hours of “practice” TPP had reached the expert level of botany at least in his field therein. Now it really doesn’t stop there, and the “practice” has continued ever since, and yes, sadly, 50 hour weeks are not all that unusual for active biological faculty. And undergraduate students wonder, or can’t figure out, how it is that faculty know so much. It’s because students with only a few exceptions haven’t put their foot on the first rung of the ladder of expertise as yet. And don’t get TPP started about those “master gardeners” who think their modest educational efforts elevate them out of the amateur status into experts.

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