Well observed. My exact area of expertise is drug delivery into the body, I know the most about needle-free drug delivery and wrote a 90,000 word book (PhD Thesis) on the subject. This makes me an expert in that field, but if I don’t continue learning my knowledge will become out of date as technology advances.
The trick to being a good engineer or scientist is to have a broad knowledge of a lot of areas and then an in depth knowledge in some key areas. This is called being ‘T-Shaped’ which you can see in this diagram:
Having generalist knowledge of the field is a good thing, so too is having in depth knowledge. It helps to have both as then you can apply your expertise better.
Hmmmm, I’m not really sure what my exact area of expertise is. I’ve been doing my PhD for less than a year and hadn’t really had that much experience in the field that I’m studying, tissue engineering, before I started it. I’m becoming something of an expert in how to dissolve cellulose in ionic liquids – which are salts that are liquid below 100 degrees centigrade – and how to model the process involved but this is just a side-project to my main work.
I suppose I like to have my hands in lots of honey pots so to speak. So I’m hoping to be an expert in designing materials based on cellulose and chitosan for cell growth but this will mean that I know about how cells work and interact with their environment; how to process the materials that I make – this may end up involving 3D printing – and how to find out the properties of the materials that I make.
I’m glad Alex has given that link and explanation – I’d say that’s exactly what we do.
On a broad level, I’m a mechanical engineer – I’m chartered and a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and my skill set fits best within that category. But I apply my skills set to a much narrower area – that being orthopaedics and biomechanics. I look at stresses and strains, forces and motions that occur at the joints in your body – I look at the mechanical properties of your tendons, ligaments and bones, or the materials that might be used to replace those parts. My real area of expertise is designing the experiments that test new devices/implants/treatments to ensure they’d work if used in a patient.