It’s Okay Not To Know


My first college biology course (Evolution, freshman fall) and last (Comparative Animal Physiology, senior spring) were taught by the same professor, a bird-egg expert with a commanding voice and infectious enthusiasm.

Evolution was our Biology 101, a whirlwind tour of the field crammed into a 10-week trimester, illuminating and at times overwhelming, with a straightforward goal: absorb as many bio basics as possible.

Physiology was, well, a different animal. There were about a dozen of us, juniors and seniors, all majors with plenty of science credits under our belts. We were no longer expected to memorize, but to synthesize. Each day, our professor challenged us to work harder—and each time we met that challenge, he’d raise the bar.

Then one day, a classmate asked a question. I don’t remember what it was exactly—something about gas exchange in diving beetles?—but our professor was stumped. He wasn’t ashamed to admit it. In fact, he seemed excited by the puzzle.

The next time we met, he’d been researching. Many of us had, too. We spent the class period excitedly discussing the problem, working out all the angles and trying to solve it together. For the first time in my education, I didn’t feel like a student. I felt like a scientist. A scholar. A peer.

I was lucky to have many wonderful teachers over the course of my education, each with so much knowledge to share. But one of the most important lessons came from someone who was comfortable with not knowing. In that moment, I realized there’s no fun in having all the answers. The joy is in the learning.


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Kirsten Weir is a freelance science journalist based in Minneapolis.


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