The Careers section of Science has an interesting article about specialization in science, by the author of this wonderful grad school guide. I agree that the specialization of science is something people often don’t know about, leading to pop culture icons who seem to be able to do research in completely unrelated fields. And it can have it’s drawbacks. Every few years, another article seems to lament the increasing specialization of science.
But it’s worth pointing out that specialization isn’t unique to science; it seems common in “analytical” fields, for lack of a better term. Most medical doctors end up specializing in residency (and there is a specialty crisis in medicine too). And while people may not think of it, lawyers generally practice in a specific field of law, but unlike a science PhD or medical residency, I don’t think that would show up on just by looking at education. But ask a question about patent law to a civil rights lawyer, and they might not have an immediate answer. And virtually every person in academia has to specialize in their own field.
But like Ruben says, just because we work in a specialty, it doesn’t mean we can’t learn about anything else.