Becoming an expert

One thing I’ve realised since first starting to work for and with professional and learned bodies in 1998: experts are not always what they are made out to be.

I had high regard for academic experts when I started my undergraduate degree, influenced by my grandfather who had taught engineering at university and then become a UN advisor on industrial development in the less advanced parts of the world.

This was slightly dented by some of my senior lecturers who you couldn’t even understand because of their research jargon or lack of training in how to teach. But occasionally I would meet remarkable professors or other less elite staff and understand that experts came in different shades.

This was reinforced by a Masters course and as I have said, daily work with leading scientists and engineers who were trying to reinforce the credibility of their professions. I may now have become an expert myself as I probably know more about Sir John Wolfe Barry than any living person.

This has its pros and cons. It helps me have conversations with people who are also very knowledgeable about other famous engineers. We can share our reflections. On the reverse side of the coin, it can cause friction with experts who actually come from those and allied professions. My stance is that as a trained historian who has specialised in economic and technical history but not completed a PhD, I may not be as good as others, but my arguments are valid and can always be critiqued, preferably in public.

So I hope the forthcoming book on the 19th Century Barrys will be well received and not simply shot down by those better equipped to fire arrows. Not that it matters to me personally I should add.

Author: Nick von Behr

I've been blogging since 2012 under different guises and on a range of topics mainly linked to education, but more recently focusing on the history of civil engineering and architecture as well as writing more generally. I have written a book on the 19th-century Brunel and Barry families of successful architects and civil engineers who built the Houses of Parliament, Tower Bridge, Paddington Station and the Royal Opera House in London and the Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol.

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