Why I don’t think I will be a successful scientist

Science explosion

I have been comparing myself to established scientists within my field, and without exception, the result of my comparison leaves me thinking that I do not want to be like any of those people. I suspect this is mostly my naivety clouding my opinion, but there is a vital component to being a scientist which I currently do not care for. The essential component is producing papers and hustling to get noticed by the relative popularity of these papers. A lot of what you read in a paper is not crucial and usually is only there because publishers want a specific style to differentiate their journal from the others – classic business behaviour. I have extremely low motivation to try and get good at producing papers, and this is why I do not think I will be a good scientist. I have been pondering this for a while, and when I was re-reading Thinking Fast and Slow, I spotted these few sentences which, of course, resonated.

I have yet to meet a successful scientist who lacks the ability to exaggerate the importance of what he or she is doing, and I believe that someone who lacks a delusional sense of significance will wilt in the face of repeated experiences of multiple small failures are rare successes, the fate of most researchers”.

Daniel Kahneman – Thinking Fast and Slow, page 264.

Ninety-percent of the time when I talk to my colleagues, they will be the one talking about their project. It is not that I do not enjoy my project, because I do, it is because I rarely feel the need to tell people what I am doing. I would rather talk to them about non-work related stuff; I found this lack of wanting to show-off about my project even more pronounced when I went on a residential course with lots of other students. I was a shoulder to cry/climb on for people to moan and brag about their projects. I preferred to talk about them and get to know them. I love the problem-solving part of my project, the rest of it I could easily delegate to someone else if the option was available. I suspect if I had a big ego, or I had been damaged in some way so that I had this burning desire to prove the demons in my head wrong; I would be on a mad crusade to reach the top. Luckily for me, or maybe unluckily I do not have the ego or desire.

Reflecting on what I have said so far, I assume my thoughts will be a lot different in five years. I think this as my goals have changed drastically over the years, and I have no inclination that this trend won’t continue. I also realise that you could probably apply my particular dilemma to a lot of different disciplines, so I hope it has not been too narrow!


Published by Louis

Spend less than you earn, Invest the surplus, avoid debt. Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

23 thoughts on “Why I don’t think I will be a successful scientist

  1. I don’t think that a desire to talk about one’s research is so heavily based on ego. I like to talk about my research because I take pride in the work I do; I also like to talk about novel research that I have no part in. I like being able to get people outside of research/academia excited about new technologies and help them understand how these technologies could shape the future.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. If you don’t race with them, you’ll get run over! Talk about your project, be proud of what you are doing and you never know, you just may teach someone else something new that would like to listen to you! Be excited about it, thats1 what gets others interested!

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Just an observation – you write with confidence, with humour, with your eyes wide open – as one myself, and in my experience, a lot of scientists don’t! Scientists talk science to other scientists, just as writers talk writing to other writers – and I admit on a bad/good day I do both. Truth is, I believe it’s more unbridled enthusiasm than ego, more mind waving than arms, I’ve been just as thrilled listening to presentations by post grad students as those by Nobel Laureates (the few I know are humble). Sure it’s tougher to get noticed than it was in my day, and publish, publish, publish has always been the mantra, but having ideas is what matters and better communication skills than most; from what I read of you, you have both. Good luck, I kind of think you’ll do more than alright!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Thank you for the comment, I think I have grouped egomaniacs and enthusiasts in the same group, which was a mistake. Thanks again for the encouragement, I feel a bit better about it actually!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. That’s some really interesting thoughts! Science and me just do not get along, but I can relate to what you wrote!
    I normally don’t like to talk about my own achievements, but as someone who aspires to write I should be showing off my work

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is one of those things I know I need to get better at, and sometimes pretend I actually do want to get better at it, but I really have no natural drive to do so.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such a relatable post, luckily I’m planning to quit research after my PhD as much as is possible to focus on teaching undergraduates as that’s what I much prefer. Like you, I much prefer talking about other things than work to everyone. I’m always the weird one on courses who’ll talk about archery, cake, anime and everything possible as long as it’s not work, while devouring more cake than the next five people put together, not exactly professional scientist material xD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow teaching, I have never understood how people enjoy doing that. Good luck with it though, it is one of the few things that is actually meaningful that I can think of.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I feel you! I feel the same way about writing, I’m not ambitious about being a writer. I just like to write. There’s one thing that is pretty cool about this though is that there are plenty of different jobs that require people who like words (or science) without having to do the job of a writer (or head scientist of a project). And these jobs usually pay well and regularly. The doors are open to plenty of opportunities, as opposed to only a few of them when we focus only on that one goal to be a writer/scientist. Thumbs up for stability haha!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Great observation. You have put your finger on what’s wrong with the educational system. It is not about discovery and learning, pure and simple; it is about exposure and recognition. It is filling in the blanks and getting noticed in a world that creates it own questions.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Your entire blog is speaking to me right now. I’m not a PhD student, but I am a grad student, and well yeah…the struggle is real. Keep up your amazing work, though. You got this.


    1. Thanks for the comment. I love the Lord of the Rings which is how I found you. Your post looks really good too, how did you get the different coloured text? I will have to look into that.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Your post echos my feelings right now.I really sometimes doubt my abilities and capabilities because of the very same reasons.I really don’t understand the insane rush to keep on publishing papers and the pressing need to keep on talking about what research a person is carrying out.
    Thanks a lot for being able to vocalise these emotions so clearly.


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