Advice to a young scientist

May. 12, 2015 , 3:30 PM
BILBAO, SPAIN—In these days of increased competition and uncertain career prospects in academia, it is easy for young scientists to forget why they do science in the first place. But too much career anxiety can backfire, put young scientists at risk of losing the fun of science, and harm their chances of success. “Today, in contrast to our days, [young investigators] must be continuously justifying what they do. They find themselves under a great pressure, and I believe that this isn’t good for creativity, which is the essence of the scientific activity,” condensed matter physicist Pedro Miguel Echenique of the University of the Basque Country (UPV), told the audience of young scientists last Thursday at the Science+ event, which was organized by the associations of Spanish scientists in the United Kingdom and Germany and UPV .
Some fields are more competitive than others, but “the abilities to survive in science can be learned,” Echenique, who is the president of the Donostia International Physics Center and a past recipient of the Prince of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research, told his audience. Here, Science Careers passes on some of the advice that Echenique gave during his talk. The most important things, he said, are to cultivate your scientific curiosity, take pride in doing things well, and nurture great but realistic ambitions. Here’s the rest:
Choose well. When deciding where to do your Ph.D. or postdoc, do not base your decision solely on whether the laboratory has a grant for you or routinely publishes in high-impact journals. Choose “a place where one feels motivated, where one knows that some fascinating things are being done,” Echenique said. Also important is to choose a good supervisor, one who won’t treat you like “cheap labor at the service of a great project,” he added. “To look after the young people and their scientific and personal development … is the hallmark of the great professors.”
Choosing a good project is equally important. It’s hard to know in advance whether a project is going to be good. You can ensure, though, that the project you choose is significant and can be finished in a reasonable time. It’s also a good idea for postdocs to work on several projects at once so that if one gets stalled you can keep moving forward on the others.
Learn broadly. Use the early years of your career to learn as many techniques as you can; they will help you tackle…

Advice to a young scientist
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