This, or a slightly modified version of the Richard Feynman quote, was always my response when one of my famous physics Nobel laureate colleagues called me out for building things. People would say, “Jan, why are you spending so much time building stuff? You should be thinking about theory.”
Earlier in my career, as a tenured physics professor, I often felt this spoken and unspoken pressure to devote more of my time to theory than to actually building and testing things.
I never really bought into this, though. I’ve always believed that building things is an incredibly efficient way to delineate your ignorance, test your hypotheses and contribute new, concrete knowledge to the world. This perspective was part of what drove me to transition from physics into bioengineering. I saw this incredibly exciting opportunity to develop and test hypotheses and ultimately to build things to impact human health. I’m proud that I’ve held on firmly to my love of hypothesizing, building and testing. I love being involved in work that has the potential to tangibly impact people’s lives.