Yangyang Cheng is a physicist based in the US. Apart from her scientific research in the field of experimental particle physics, she is also a columnist who discusses social and culture issues in international publications like the New York Times.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Kr: Do you reject the use of “success” or “failure” in defining people or things?
YC: Yes. I’ll give the example of Pan Jianwei, China’s preeminent quantum scientist. He has won so many national and international awards. He’s also an alumni of my alma mater, USTC.
He said that when he was an undergraduate, his grades were mediocre. In particular, he almost failed his first quantum physics test. While he did study using the textbook and problem sets, he found himself very much intrigued by the science behind these existing well-solved, well-defined problems. So he spent a lot of time thinking, overthinking and did badly on the test day itself. He almost failed the test. However, because he possessed that “wrong” curiosity and drive, which was problematic for passing a test, he became an accomplished scientist later on through these very same qualities. I think it’s critical to understand, original research thrives on curiosity and drive.
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