How can one even begin to describe the APS March Meeting, the biggest material physics international conference of the year?

The sheer magnitude of a whole week with more than 40 simultaneous talks at all time can be vertiginous for its tens of thousands of attendees. Instead of spending this article on a ridiculously long exhaustive list of all the scientific results that were presented, I’ll instead concentrate on the biggest realization I’ve made during the week while preparing my talk. An underlying fact that everyone relates to, but few people ever talk about. The presence of faith in science.

Faith is a word that possesses a strong taboo in the scientific community. Indeed, science relies on verifiable, repeatable facts, and, most often than not, steps away from religion altogether. But faith isn’t really about religion. Faith is a great motivational tool, a strong emotion that scientists tend to forget all too quickly. Faith is at the core of everyone, and is indeed, at the core of science itself.

It’s not easy being a graduate student. One Ph.D. student out of two will never complete their studies. The pressure of one’s advisor or funding agencies to produce meaningful, useful and predictable results can be unbearable, and it’s very easy to lose track of your personal research when there are so many great people out here. And that’s where the paradox lies: there is no possible way to predict the results of scientific research. The hardest truth of all about science is that you don’t know what you’re searching for, or even where to find it.

But that’s where faith comes into play. Scientist as a career choice usually comes from a child’s faith in their desire to invent, to create, to understand and change the world. Every scientific experiment is rooted in faith in the outcome, or in the experiment’s success. Even mathematics as a whole, the very language of the universe, relies on faith in a few axioms on which we can build.

The popularity of networking or job search events at the March Meeting is simply ridiculous. With a great deal of chance and a lot of patience, I found myself participating in one of them in-between presentations. Even though the event was very interesting, there is one thing that couldn’t be shown in the pages of notes that I took, but yet was so visible I couldn’t not notice it: graduate students are scared. All of the ones present at the event, me included, were stuck into communicating in English, which wasn’t our first language. We had to interact constantly with dozens of people of all age and color, trying to befriend our competition and watch our public appearance; all while not knowing our place, our relevance, and for the most part, our future. The hardest challenge of all is the necessity to find faith when the universe seems forgetful and senseless. Because, as with love, it is possible to find unconditional faith without the need for a rational justification. Even for a scientist, whose whole job relies on finding rational justifications.

The good news is that the solution is everywhere. Science communication isn’t all about sharing information, filling forms, finding publishing deals, protecting patents and reading articles. At the core, it’s about meeting other people with similar interests. It’s about seeing passionate people ready to stand up to change the world on every level. People who to tell those who dare doubt them that they haven’t met them yet, and they haven’t met their friends. People talking about their dreams with stars in their eyes and excited about what the constantly uncertain future holds. It’s about people having faith, and trying to share it with the world.

Nicolas Berube

Nicolas Bérubé

Ph.D Candidate, Year 4

Department of Physics, University of Montreal