22 May 2012

What a scientist should be able to do

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
- Robert Heinlein, Time Enough for Love
I was thinking about what are the skills a scientist should have. What do you think a grad student should know at the end, after they finish their PhD?
  1. Technical skills - mathematics, programming/numerics, lab techniques, etc
  2. Writing - ability to write good scientific papers that are clear, concise, and well-motivated
  3. Presentations - ability to write good presentations and deliver them well, this is closely related to writing
  4. Comprehension - ability to distill the important ideas from a paper or presentation, ability to tell the difference between crappy research and good research
  5. Process - (advanced) ability to come up with concrete ways/experiments to answer questions, ability to overcome deadends in research, ability to stay organized, keep good records, and manage other people
  6. Community - talking to people including those outside your field, attending seminars/conferences, convincing people your research is important, building a network of trusted friends who you can turn to for feedback and support
  7. Creativity - ability to understand the difference between good and bad ideas/questions, (advanced) ability to come up with interesting questions that are soluble
  8. Resilience - ability to stay positive and motivated even when the research isn't going very well
I am by no means an expert on this subject.

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