1. The number of papers you publish
2. Where those papers are published (impact factor)
3. The prestige of your university
4. Funding sources (NIS, NSF, NIH)
Not every scientist is a tenured professor at Princeton who has won the Nobel Prize for a series of papers published in Science and is funded by large NSF grants. Does this sort of thing really determine our quality as scientists, or can you be a successful, worthy scientist without the top hat and tails?
Northwest Hawaiian Islands. I recently had the opportunity to have dinner with a researcher who had just gotten back from Kure (Cure-ie) Atoll. He told me that he has been doing fieldwork all over the world, from Borneo to Alaska, in 6-month stints for the last 5 years. His on the ground efforts are making tangible improvements to the survival of endangered bird species. On the other hand, that sure is a lot of time to spend away from the comforts of society. Regardless of the importance of their work, these scientists rarely get the kind of accolades awarded to the top-hat scientists, but talking to them can be intimidating nonetheless. These are things I have actually heard come out of the mouths of the castaway-type of scientist:
"Well, I've just been to Costa Rica so many times that I can't get excited about it. Where I'd really like to go again is Madagascar."
"Midway Island was just too populated and built up after being on Kure."Five years ago, I think I was fully in the castaway corner, and in some ways I still am. In addition, grad school, relationships, and pets make it kind of hard to pick up and move to a desert island for 7 months. Over the last several years, I've been inundated with information about how "successful" scientists are the ones with the most prestige. I've been reading a lot of science lately from various sources, from Female Science Professor to Deep Sea News. These sources measure success in many ways, including the metrics listed above. I can't speak for everyone, but societal norms have never really been my thing (see photo at right). I think "prestige" is nice, but there are also people out there that never had prestige, but did amazing, world-shattering, important science (Gregor Mendel comes to mind).
So I decided to sit down and think about the things that are important to me, personally, as a scientist. So, here is my personal list of goals for success:
Fighting on the planet's side!
At heart, I am a conservation scientist. I hope that the research I do helps to protect the vulnerable species on our planet and the ecosystem as a whole. I also think that I should do things outside of research to make the world a better place, like write blog posts to educate the public about conservation issues or volunteer my time to teach kids about science. Do I lose scientific credibility by being a little bit of an idealist? Possibly. But it's an important part of who I am.
2) Do Good Science
Doing good science does not always mean that you will be right, it just means that you do good background research, have thoughtful and repeatable methodologies, and try not to draw unwarranted conclusions from your data. It does NOT mean that you will always be right about everything (science is always evolving), but I think a good scientist can take criticism and new information in stride. Even if it doesn't agree with their results!
3) Enjoy the Science that I do
I don't see any point in doing something I hate. OK, I may not LOVE every minute of my research (oh, data crunching, how I do loathe you!). However, I want to think that the research that I do is worthwhile (see #1 on the list). And it wouldn't hurt to play the castaway scientist once in a while.
4) Treat others with respect
|When your a scientist, even |
being a crazy cat lady can be
too much commitment
5) Be healthy
This means not doing science long enough to exercise, eat right, and go to the doctor when necessary. When I am in my 70s, I want to be like my dad, skiing 50+ days a year.
6) Have a (reasonable) personal life
There's not really enough time to be a social diva or go clubbing, but it's important to maintain friendships with at least a few good people. This is very important for mental health - sitting in front of a computer constantly can make you crazy (also applies to #7).
7) Pay My Bills
Let's be honest, financial security is important. I would like to be able to afford rent, health insurance, auto expenses, food, and other bills to take care of myself and my family. It would also be nice to have a little extra, for books, bikes, and maybe a potter's wheel *sigh.*
OK, so that's my list. Those are the things I want out of life. Anything else is a bonus.
That being said, those prestigious things can sure make life easier in some ways. Like I've mentioned in earlier blog posts, students and faculty at big schools have a lot of advantages. I'm not saying I wouldn't like those advantages - but they are just tools that make the goals I've listed above easier to achieve. If they help meet goals 1-3, I may go for the prestige items.
It'd be nice to have a paper in science, but you can make a difference without it.
|This would probably be easier with a laser.|