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?”.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
GO BACK TO HOME PAGE OR SCROLL UP TO MENU UNDER THE WEBSITE TITLE