A lot of what you do in science is judged through the lens of who you are. Actually, that’s true of nearly any human endeavor, not just science. But since this blog is ostensibly about science careers, I’ll focus on those.
Honestly, it amazes me that I managed to build up some kind of reputation in my community of peers. It is not like I spent nearly as much effort at this as I probably should have. Yet, a few people have heard of me and my lab’s work. I suppose that is a good thing!
So, just to disabuse you of the notion that I have any idea of what I’m talking about, I’ll list out a few things that may have been important in gaining “street cred”:
1. jumping at nearly any presentation opportunity, except for this weird invitations to go to Dubai that I get on a regular basis.
2. actually putting together a coherent slideshow at said presentation opportunity, rather than just rambling on randomly about my data and putting everyone to sleep
3. acting like I know what I’m doing. At this point in my career I actually do have some bit of clue about what I am doing, but when I started, I certainly did not… Fake it until you make it comes to mind.
4. generate original ideas, and implement them. I have a lot of friends who are great about the idea generation, but fall down when it comes to the implementation part. That used to be me as well. I had far more ideas than implementation. But somehow I managed to get a few key ideas implemented (despite my best efforts to make it much more complicated than need be) – and having done this has given me the leverage to do more of it. Now I focus on implementing, implementing, and more implementing. A few good implementations are far better than hundreds of unimplemented “great ideas.”
5. interact with colleagues. I occasionally do things like invite them to give talks, serve on study section, and so on. This seems to be important, though overall I’m not very good at it, because I’m so busy with the implementation part these days.
6. don’t be a total jerk. Honestly, I had my jerky moments interacting with people in the past, but those were fortunately confined to relatively infrequent occasions. However, I’ve worked hard to sort out the underlying issues I had that were leading to jerkism, and now that I rarely do that anymore, working with others is far easier. It is amazing, but some people will go out of their way to be helpful when I am nice to them!
7. work on stuff people care about. This one is self evident but also seemingly very hard for many of us scientists to actually do. Maybe it is because of the “lone wolf” mythology about how great science discoveries are made. We’re supposed to go off in a lab, working all hours by ourselves on the next big thing… not worrying about what anyone thinks. But unlike fairy tales, in the real world, funding of some kind is necessary to have a lab to work in. To get funding requires actually paying attention to what the community and funders want.
8. knowing when to wrap up a project as being “good enough” and just getting it out the door, rather than trying to perfect it for so long that it becomes entirely irrelevant. Yes, I’ve suffered from that particular character flaw (the perfectionism one), and I have several unfinished papers sitting on my hard drive that will probably never see the light of day. Nowadays, I have no tolerance for perfectionism in my life or lab.
And, in order to stay true to number 8, it is time to wrap up this blog post.