Just came across this brilliant essay by Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg, writing about his experience as a young scholar, his first steps in research and the connection between science and epistemology.
The essay is so short and clear that I could have copied it here in its entirety, but I'll just give you one inspirational paragraph:
Look back 100 years, to 1903. How important is it now who was Prime Minister of Great Britain in 1903, or President of the United States? What stands out as really important is that at McGill University, Ernest Rutherford and Frederick Soddy were working out the nature of radioactivity. This work (of course!) had practical applications, but much more important were its cultural implications.
and leave the rest for the original