## Sunday, November 8, 2009

### Advice from a scientist

I found this article via this blog that I follow.

The advice is commonsensical, which, ironically, makes it a must-read.

Some of my favorite excerpts:
Now for the matter of drive. You observe that most great scientists have tremendous drive. I worked for ten years with John Tukey at Bell Labs. He had tremendous drive. One day about three or four years after I joined, I discovered that John Tukey was slightly younger than I was. John was a genius and I clearly was not. Well I went storming into Bode's office and said, How can anybody my age know as much as John Tukey does?'' He leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head, grinned slightly, and said, You would be surprised Hamming, how much you would know if you worked as hard as he did that many years.'' I simply slunk out of the office!
My own PhD advisor, Ron Larson, is this (Tukey) type of person. Towards the end of my PhD, I realized that I had to do something he wasn't interested in. Barring luck, it is hard to directly compete with him. He is smarter, and works longer hours.

Another quote from the speech:
What Bode was saying was this: Knowledge and productivity are like compound interest.'' Given two people of approximately the same ability and one person who works ten percent more than the other, the latter will more than twice outproduce the former. The more you know, the more you learn; the more you learn, the more you can do; the more you can do, the more the opportunity - it is very much like compound interest. I don't want to give you a rate, but it is a very high rate. Given two people with exactly the same ability, the one person who manages day in and day out to get in one more hour of thinking will be tremendously more productive over a lifetime.
There's another trait on the side which I want to talk about; that trait is ambiguity. It took me a while to discover its importance. Most people like to believe something is or is not true. Great scientists tolerate ambiguity very well. They believe the theory enough to go ahead; they doubt it enough to notice the errors and faults so they can step forward and create the new replacement theory. If you believe too much you'll never notice the flaws; if you doubt too much you won't get started. It requires a lovely balance. But most great scientists are well aware of why their theories are true and they are also well aware of some slight misfits which don't quite fit and they don't forget it.