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Simple, Great Advice for Those Seeking a Career in Science

I’m not a consistent Twitterer, but I do maintain a Twitter feed as @SciCareerEditor.  Lately, I’ve been really busy and haven’t tweeted much, but when I checked in this morning I saw a tweet directed my way (by mentioning my twitter handle) from Sanford Buhrnam Medical Research Institute (@SanfordBurnham on Twitter), which has locations in Florida and California. The purpose of the tweet was to draw attention to a post on their Beaker blog, titled Four ‘secrets’ to success in science.

The blog post documents an encounter in which a student asks an unnamed “old professor” to reveal the secrets of his success. After some unconvincing humility, the professor agrees to share “four things that have kept me going for such a long time. But they’re
not secrets. They’re just things that everybody knows, but doesn’t want
to think about because they are hard truths to face.”

If you aspire to a career in academic science–or any other demanding career, since much of the advice applies broadly–please do read the post. But here, as a sort of teaser, I’ll give you the short version:

  1. Put in the time. Be willing to work harder and longer than everyone else.
  2. Be productive (not just busy).
  3. Solve problems. It happens frequently: Your adviser presents you with a half-baked, silly idea that she or he thinks is brilliant and you know right away isn’t going to work. When this happens, don’t just tell the boss it can’t be done and move on. Instead, go solve those problems. Make it–or something like it–work.
  4. Look at the big picture–but also focus. This is one of the hardest things to pull off due to the sheer quantity of information you have to master. It’s enough for a young scientist just to learn the fine details of a narrow area; to also keep up with the field really well, so that you know where your work fits and can recognize it when opportunities arise, requires reading and understanding a much wider literature. That’s not easy to do. Do it anyway.

I welcome you to follow me on Twitter, at @SciCareerEditor. For a broader, less personal, and more reliable feed (that also includes ads for open jobs), check out @MyScienceCareer.