8 responses to “Generalist or Specialist”

  1. Miss MSE

    Since the fundamental goal of a PhD is to become the world’s leading expert in some very specific thing, I expected to become a specialist to a much greater degree than seems to have happened. Because I’ve worked on such disparate projects, to some degree, I’ve remained a generalist.

    There’s several different types of specialization for MSE: you can specialize in a process, a characterization method, or a material class. I can best be classified as a process-type specialist, with my process being atomistic simulations.

    However, because I’d ultimately like to teach, I want to remain a bit of a generalist, so that I can competently speak on a broader range of subjects. So all in all, I’m pretty had with the degree of specialization I’m at.

  2. Chris Gammell

    I think generalists are most employable and yet almost all job descriptions are written for specialists (often times multi-specialists, so perhaps they just want a really good generalist?). I’ve always railed against diving too deep into one subject because there’s so much to learn. I think a good followup post would be to highlight a Gen Y type person who is a specialist, because I don’t think this happens nearly as much these days. And I think that will cause some problems in industry (and possibly opportunity) in the coming years.

    1. bill

      That’s a pretty interesting statement but it seems to be true. At least in electrical engineering, all the experts I know seem to be older, while younger engineers are more generalists / integrators who can also code. I don’t think this is much of a problem though because specialists are less and less important. Back in the day, you needed to be a power expert to design a switching power supply, now you just order a part from a good company, follow the data sheet instructions, example designs and use the companies design software. Specialization is being pushed back to the IC companies, freeing engineers to do more of the higher level fun stuff. That being said, I think it is still good to semi-specialize in certain areas to help distinguish yourself from other generalists out there. This is usually pretty easy anyways as we all have unique interests.

      1. Fluxor

        Specialization is being pushed back to the IC companies, freeing engineers to do more of the higher level fun stuff.

        So who are those people designing ICs? Art history majors?

        1. bill

          LOL, good point.

    2. Nastya

      In our current ecmoinoc times, it seems that it is imperative to be versatile. Specializing in a field is not only time consuming in terms of schooling, but it leaves the person open to ecmoinoc and technological changes. This can be seen with our current technology. Once people had to process information by hand; now computers are able to process that same information in a fraction of the time. The people that were specialized in that processing are now out of a job or were smart enough to be able to shift gears and become familiarized with another industry. It seems that the most full-proof method is, as in most cases, a mix of the two ideologies. Similar to building a house, one must have a solid foundation, built with materials such as: mathematics, science, communication skills, finance, ethics, hard work, determination, and problem-solving. Once that strong foundation is built, the person can start building on top of it, much like specializing into a specific field. If ever a disaster comes along that demolishes that building (i.e. poor ecmoinoc times leading to job cuts), the person will not have to live on the street. Using those building materials mentioned earlier, the person can do more than just survive, he can once again thrive by rebuilding (re-specializing) onto his still solid foundation.

  3. flimflamsam

    good point at the end. school isn’t about learning engineering. It teaches us how to learn, so that we can learn engineering. The real lesson begins on the job. Doesn’t matter what you’re degree is. You don’t know anything when you first walk onto the job.

  4. Roberr

    In our current economic times, it seems that it is imperative to be versatile. Specializing in a field is not only time consuming in terms of schooling, but it leaves the person open to economic and technological changes. This can be seen with our current technology. Once people had to process information by hand; now computers are able to process that same information in a fraction of the time. The people that were specialized in that processing are now out of a job or were smart enough to be able to shift gears and become familiarized with another industry.

    It seems that the most full-proof method is, as in most cases, a mix of the two ideologies. Similar to building a house, one must have a solid foundation, built with materials such as: mathematics, science, communication skills, finance, ethics, hard work, determination, and problem-solving. Once that strong foundation is built, the person can start building on top of it, much like specializing into a specific field. If ever a disaster comes along that demolishes that building (i.e. poor economic times leading to job cuts), the person will not have to live on the street. Using those building materials mentioned earlier, the person can do more than just survive, he can once again thrive by rebuilding (re-specializing) onto his still solid foundation.