News - April 26, 2018

‘The Google generation is losing its memory’

Kenneth van Zijl

Yuxi Deng did PhD research on protein breakdown. Her memory proved so valuable in her scientific work that she decided to devote one of her propositions to this cognitive skill.

Yuxi Deng from China graduated with a PhD on 20 April for a study on the predictability of enzymatic protein hydrolysis.

Proposition: Memory is a cognitive skill that is often underestimated in scientific education

‘The most important thing in science is of course to understand your field of research. But I also think logical thinking in combination with a good memory bring scientific discussions further. For example: my professor and I have a meeting and he asks me something about a subject that is related to my research project. Then it is handy if I can dig up that knowledge from my memory. If I have to Google everything, before I can answer, it is not only a nuisance, but the discussion stops. Literally.

Of course I do acknowledge that nowadays the internet is so extremely good that you really can find anything on it. That is why some people tend to think that they don’t have to remember anything. You could call them the Google generation. But the thing is, you do not look at your phone during a presentation or meeting.

I think that the more you use your memory skills during discussions and presentations, the faster you reach real depth and insight, which you would never reach by looking things up all the time. That is why I try to train my memory by memorizing the number of amino acids in all the proteins that I work with. I have also tried to memorize all the conditions under which I performed my experiments, like temperature and pH values. It has surprised me how fast your memory deteriorates if you don’t train it.

It is like mental arithmetic. If you never practise it, you’ll reach the point when you cannot
even add up the amount on a supermarket receipt.’