Monthly Archives: December 2016

ON FACTORS AIDING SUCCESS IN SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH! 

 

Several factors can increase the chances for success in conducting scientific research! (http://dr-monsrs,net)
Several factors can increase the chances for success in conducting scientific research! (http://dr-monsrs,net)

 

Most people believe that doing scientific research must be very boring because all activities are conducted by the so-called  “scientific method” and thus proceed exactly as planned.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Actual research is never guaranteed to work as expected, and there is a considerable amount of chance involved in successful scientific investigations; research experiments often are quite akin to adventures!  Here, we will take a look at the importance of careful attention to some key factors which contribute to having success in scientific research.

What gives success in research experiments?

Scientific studies aim to find answers to research questions.  To become a celebrated research scientist, investigators must make some discoveries that are recognized to be important by other scientists.  Usually this involves designing research investigations in a good manner, conducting the data collection in a way that is statistically valid and repeatable, and, analyzing and interpreting the experimental results so the conclusions are solid.  It should not be thought that doing good research is easy, since it requires much dedicated effort and emotional input by the Principal Investigator (i.e., the director of the research project) and all research coworkers.  Outside problems that do not involve research directly, such as deadlines, politics, presentations for science meetings, seeking patents, teaching of courses, writing and revising manuscripts, etc., always keep scientists quite busy.

Even good research plans often undergo changes for what is done in the laboratory.  Sometimes, new research publications from other scientists will necessitate adding additional experiments which had not been planned earlier.  Success with research partly depends upon special factors and circumstances that can increase the chances for getting a good outcome: (1) keen awareness of what the experiments are showing while the data are being collected, (2) appreciation that luck and serendipity in addition to vigorous efforts can facilitate success, and (3) acceptance that eliminating distractions is valuable to permit full concentration on what is being done.  Of course, there also are many other factors needed to gain success with doing scientific research (see “How Do Research Scientists Become Very Famous?”.

Awareness! 

Unexpected results from experiments can be very difficult to evaluate if the scientist does not know all the details about exactly how they were acquired.  Such awareness is often ignored by senior researchers who supervise many grad students and postdocs only from their desk.  These faculty then cannot critically evaluate what technical operations are being done and exactly how the data were produced.

Other kinds of awareness also are significant.  Research scientists must strive to know what other researchers in their field are doing; this requires attention to the new literature, attendance at sessions in science meetings, and making contacts with other scientists.  Awareness of the business aspects of research has become quite important in recent years.  Awareness can pay off big time if it results in doing or not doing something that other researchers have not recognized.  Good awareness in scientists commonly is a sign of an active mind.

Full concentration! 

Having full concentration while working on data collection requires strong personal discipline.   Very many scientists, whether working in industrial or academic labs, do not realize or accept that listening to the radio or conversing about politics while running an experiment necessarily reduces attention to what is being done.  Those very common distractions decrease awareness and inevitably cause carelessness!  In my experience, maintaining full attention, a high degree of alertness, and absence of distractions all help avoid making mistakes and foster producing good results.

Luck! 

Non-scientists often are amazed to see the large impact of good luck and bad luck in scientific research.  Good luck can bless any researcher, but for unknown reasons seems to occur more frequently in some than in others.  Wishing to have good luck unfortunately will not increase its appearance.  However, having awareness and mental sharpness can serve to make good luck less important for achieving success in research.  Bad luck also can occur to any scientist, and too frequently is blamed for causing all kinds of problems in conducting research experiments.

Serendipity!

For scientists, serendipity is a surprise research finding, realization about the collected data, or event.  It can have the form of a chance observation, an unusual beneficial turn of events, or the wonderful recognition that a piece of research data has a special significance.  Some explicit examples of serendipity include when a scientist (1) finally realizes that some acquired result unexpectedly also answers a different research question, (2) has a research publication that appears a full 6 months before competing scientists publish their very similar results, and, (3) gets an unexpected invitation to present a lecture at a science meeting.

Today, getting and maintaining a research grant is a matter of life and death for university science faculty.  Most scientists in modern universities will admit that they do not understand why certain applications for research grants get funded, but others seeming to be even more deserving are not funded.  Undoubtedly, the most supreme serendipity that any university scientist can have today is when their research grant application is funded in full!

Concluding remarks! 

Awareness, ability to strongly focus one’s attention, and, being visited by serendipity are valuable for any scientist to have.  Along with strong mental activity, personal determination, and technical skills, these might even help encourage having good luck!

 

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GRAD STUDENTS AND POSTDOCS IN SCIENCE CAN FIND NEW CAREER DIRECTIONS! 

 

Trials and tribulations of a postdoc! (http://dr-monsrs.net)
Trials and tribulations of a postdoc!   (http://dr-monsrs.net)

 

Traditional careers in academic science increasingly are recognized by many grad students and postdocs as being restrictive and problematic.  Rather than drop out of science, many individuals escape the negative features of the traditional faculty job in academia by finding more satisfying positions permitting research and teaching of science to be continued long-term.  Since this escape requires thinking new thoughts and a willingness to be unconventional, it is never easy.

Today’s dispatch covers an explicit and inspiring story of how one postdoc overcame these difficulties.  A heartfelt biographical note by Dr. Matthew Tuthill [1] describes how he found satisfaction and fun with both research and teaching at a somewhat unusual job position, after being progressively disheartened when pursuing the usual path to get a Ph.D. and advance up the academic ladder.  His story emphasizes that hunting for a new science job in science is never hopeless!

A postdoc becomes dissatisfied! 

Matthew Tuthill was following the traditional route for young researchers to obtain a job as a university scientist, but after several years researching as a postdoc he began to have serious doubts about his possibilities for landing long-term employment as a faculty scientist and getting research grant awards  It was disheartening that the research grind was diminishing his interest for continuing to work at science.  Many other postdocs today have exactly the same difficult feelings.

What to do? 

He then made the difficult decision to abandon the stock academic path and try to find a new career that would better satisfy his ongoing enthusiasm for being a professional researcher.  His choices widened when he looked at the work of his graduate school mentor, who had made important contributions to society by founding a Cord Blood Bank, and of a professor at a local 2-year college, who advanced student training in scientific research by involving them in the lab production of monoclonal antibodies.

He met with that professor, who worked at a 2-year community college, and came to see that the standard view about the limitations of working at such institutions is very wrong.  Those realizations opened his mind to recognizing that there are some good science careers with research and teaching outside of big universities and medical schools.  These opportunities had not been apparent earlier because they are wrongly considered unworthy for serious researchers; that realization emphasizes that job seekers must consider all possibilities for their job hunt (see:  “Other  Jobs for Scientists, Part I” , “Part II” , and “Part III” )!

A new job with both research and teaching opens up! 

Dr. Tuthill then was appointed to a faculty position at the same “quiet junior college in the middle of the Pacific” (i.e., in Honolulu) [1].  His employment involves both teaching science and scientific research, and provides the opportunity to help the young science students to develop personally and learn to conduct research.  He states that “many of my research mentors and peers considered it career suicide” to work at a community college [1]; however, for certain individuals this unconventional choice really is a dream come true.

After 10 years of working in this small academic institution, Dr. Tuthill concludes that his job there has helped him grow as a dedicated academic and as a science mentor.  His earlier dissatisfaction has been replaced by renewed enthusiasm for science and growing self-satisfaction for being an unconventional academic.  Thus, there is a very happy ending to this story!

Lessons to be learned from Dr.Tuthill! 

This true story nicely illustrates several directives that young scientists often overlook!  (1) There are many jobs outside universities and medical schools that are open to Ph.D.s in science; some involve research and/or teaching, while others do not involve direct research  (e.g., in advertising, finances, industries, law, media, sales, software, etc.).  (2) The more you talk with other working scientists, the more you will learn about which unconventional job possibilities are available.  (3)  Always be open minded and think creatively when seeking a new job; sometimes you even can create your own new position.  (4)  Never give up your hunt, and, be open to unexpected and unconventional options.  (5) Your final goal is to find a position that suits your abilities, your ambitions, your interests, and your skills; all individuals are different, so concentrate on finding a position that .will be good just for you!

Concluding remarks!  

I enthusiastically encourage all graduate students and postdocs to read Matthew Tuthill’s fascinating biographical story for themselves.  “Making a difference, differently” is in a recent issue of Science (December 2, 2016, volume 354, page 1194), and is available on the internet at:  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/354/6316/1194 .  Good luck!

[1]  Tuthill, M., 2016.  “Making a difference, differently”Science 354:page 1194.

 

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