A Letter to a Young Scientist

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Dear Young Scientist,

I am writing to you today because I was informed that you have chosen science for a career. Well, congratulations my dear!

As you know, science is very important for our everyday lives, because it is the most reliable way of learning about the universe. The knowledge that scientists gather can then be used by engineers, doctors, and others. Most of the technology we use and enjoy would not exist had scientific discoveries not preceded them; who knows what can you contribute to science in the future?

I am sure you are full of ambitions and beautiful dreams about changing the world to a better place. As Edward O. Wilson[1] said “On this path you have chosen, go as far as you can. The world needs you, badly. Humanity is now fully into the techno-scientific age. There is going to be no turning back”, so keep it up and keep going.

However, being a scientist is not an easy task; being a successful scientist is even harder and rare. It takes a lot of effort in studying, working, experimenting, publishing, defending, and hopefully graduating. As for the qualities of a good scientist, it may vary to some extent with different specialties; however, every scientist needs to have a good foundation in science classes throughout high school and college, along with a good understanding of mathematics. These basic classes give you a good start toward a career in science.

One of the most common characteristics of scientists is curiosity. Scientists are always curious about the world around them, and they yearn to learn what makes everything work. You also must be patient in climbing the career ladder and to undergo the years of work that might be required to make a discovery in a scientific field. Furthermore, a sense of optimism keeps you performing experiment after experiment, even if most of them fail.

Do your best to be a detail-oriented person; notice even tiny observations, remember, and record them. Alexander Fleming provides a famous example of this attribute; his great sense of observation led to the great discovery of penicillin.

Being open-minded is crucial for successful people in science careers. A good scientist will accept whatever outcome his/her work has and not try to force the results into a preformed opinion. He/she also has to have good ethics and will never give false results or shade an experiment just to fulfill the expected outcome. Always accept the solutions of others, even when they conflict with your own.

Most people think of science as an uncreative field; in reality, scientists must be very creative. They ask why something happens or what happens, then devise experiments to answer the question. Their creativity allows them to think outside the box and envision things that cannot be seen. They must be ready to give up old ideas when new ones come along.

Analytical and critical thinking skills enable scientists to posit hypotheses to be tested, and to interpret experimental results that might not be exactly what was expected, but are significant in that they point to another possibility to be investigated.

Moreover, you need to learn from other successful scientists, as Isaac Newton said “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”. On the other hand, do not aim to be a version of someone else, create the opportunity for yourself to be unique according to your capabilities, as Neil deGrasse Tyson[2] advised “Do what you do best”.

Scientists must be able to work as part of a team or to work independently, depending on the need of the project. They must be able to communicate effectively, both in writing and in speaking. In fact, not every smart person has these qualities; there are plenty of smart people who are not geniuses who make great scientists.

Nobel Prize winner Elizabeth Blackburn summed it all when she said “Go deep; find a good mentor; ask for advice; collaborate; focus on the science and do good research; give a great talk; consider all careers; set your (family) boundaries and use your time wisely; explore creative ideas, but know when to stop”.

Finally, I would like to express my sincere wishes for a successful career.

Yours,
Senior Scientist

References
www.universetoday.com
www.mikebrotherton.com
www.sciencecareersnow.com
woman.thenest.com

 

[1] Esteemed evolutionary biologist and two-time Pulitzer Prize winner.

[2] American astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, and science communicator.

*Published in SCIplanet Printed Magazine, Summer 2016 Issue "Brilliant Young Minds"

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