Knowledge is Power

The title of this post is a direct reference to a dialogue from one of today’s most popular TV shows, Game of Thrones, whose 4th season premiered last Sunday at HBO.

“Knowledge is power”, says Littlefinger.

Power is power!” replies Cercei.

This witty exchange occurs between two of the show’s most despised villains, Petyr Baelish a.k.a. Littlefinger, Master of Coin (= Secretary of Treasury/Finance Minister) who runs his own secret intelligence service (consisted of prostitutes, orphans, bedmaids and palace guards), and queen Cercei, a beautiful yet vain and ignorant harpy.

Even though Littlefinger is a slimy, conniving weasel with a hidden inferiority complex, I have to side with him on this one. Everything he built in his life, he did with his own two hands and brain. In contrast to that, Cercei’s power comes from the wealth and influence of her family.

TargaryenTree
One of my early iterations of the family tree of House Targaryen, a royal family with a history of dragon-riding and interfamilial marriages, practiced in order to “maintain the bloodline”. Hmmm, geneticist in me says: that’s not how you maintain it! But, the history and members of this family are fascinating, enough for me to make constant updates in the Tree.

This conversation, by the way, never took place in the books that Game of Thrones is based upon, but it still feels genuine and true to the characters. I am a so-called purist, having started reading A Song of Ice and Fire series long before they hit the mass TV production. But be warned – both the books and the TV show are not for everyone. They contain excessive violence and abundance of characters with weird names. But if you can bypass the former, and actually enjoy the latter (like myself), then you should give it a shot! Plus, one of the taglines is: “When you play a game of thrones you win or you die, which often rings true to the academia’s “Publish or perish” 😦

These series, together with cinema, are probably my biggest extracurricular passion, which made me think about the power of hobbies, outside-work activities and preferences. Dudi wrote about it a bit, from an entrepreneurial perspective. In fact, all of us writing at this blog have at least a master’s degree, so no doubt we’re knowledgeable! Having a high university degree usually means that one has an excellent memory (…storage unit) and, more importantly, knows how to use it! Additionally, we have a good attention to detail; we’re capable of highly critical thinking and teamwork, etc. etc.

And then, there are those other things as well. Think about them, and think about them hard. What else are you passionate about, aside from science? If you can use that, would you, and how?

GRRM
The author of “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series (photographed by me; left), George R.R. Martin, signed my copy of the Serbian edition of “A Clash of Kings” (2nd book of the series; right) at FantasyCon in Helsinki, 2009. Yes, he looks ridiculous.

Sure, knowledge is power, but it’s not only knowledge in a specific molecular mechanism or a cell type or technology or software, and it’s not only about how you use that knowledge in your project. It’s about the other stuff that completes us and makes us who we are. And most importantly, it’s not only what and how, it’s who as well. And that’s where those other passions come into spotlight. In science, and in many other teamwork-oriented professions, it’s a lot about whom you know and who you are. You go to all those conferences, trying to catch and meet some big names, but sometimes that’s not easy, and sometimes, you’re simply an introvert? So forget that! Mingle with your own crowd, and by that I mean not the crowd you came with (your labmates)! Mingle with other PhD students and postdocs from other universities and countries, and build a unique network! And very often, you need some catchy and cool topic to break the ice.

Wikipedia
My mom’s library and encyclopedia book sets I worn out in my younger days: Encyclopedia of The World (volumes on the left) and Encyclopedia of SFR Yugoslavia (volumes on the right).

In every work environment, during coffee and lunch breaks, the most popular topics are the safe ones – weather and food. All humans are capable of at least discussing those. Weather affects us all (especially in Sweden!), and we all eat (especially in Sweden!). Oh, the nonsense! I say, break the rules! Talk about your things! Talk about books, about TV, about squash, about yoga, cats, dogs, astronomy, astrology (!), heavy metal bands (the music, not the chemistry!), and – to hell with it – even politics! No fear! Build your name and create a buzz around you! Be memorable, because you are! Because everyone is unique and should use that fact in the best way possible! Express yourselves, come on!

Think like sir Jaime, queen Cercei’s brother, who says: “There’s no men like me, there’s only me.” 😉

Or like Cercei’s other brother, Tyrion, an unfortunate dwarf: “I have a realistic grasp of my own strengths and weaknesses. My mind is my weapon. My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer, and I have my mind… and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge!”

To be continued…

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