Though it may surprise some, PI's (Principal Investigators) are people too, and hence come in a variety of flavors. Here are some phenotypes that I have noted. I have no doubt I am one (or more) of them. (**NEW additions on: 3/2014, 5/2014, 5/2015)
The Cowboy PI - Offers bold predictions in his papers, goes WAY beyond what the data actually show.
The Pinhead PI - Knows only one technique. Chooses scientific questions answerable by that technique, ignoring all else.
The Barista - Super-nice to everyone, but really has nothing much to say.
I am always amazed at how almost every table-thumping, "has-to-be-right" idea that I have is proven wrong in the end. However when you think about it, evolution has had millions of years to work out the details but you only have what...two, three years tops to figure it out?
I think most people (scientists and non-scientists alike) fail to understand that the "superstar status" of a scientist has little to do with the significance of what his lab discovers. Experiments done in the boondocks by unknown Joe's have been changing the world for centuries...
All this Bru-ha-ha over the "impact factor" business, and a simple fact is missed. Unless there is a SINGLE logical alternative to the all-pervasive impact factor, it can never be replaced...even if there is a document with "200 signatures of working scientists" on it. Its like replacing the US gallon. Come on scientists, think harder....
The clarity of your words on the paper is directly proportional to the clarity of the thoughts in your head.
Just like great Rock music, great Science needs Dissatisfaction, Dissent, and Rebellion.
..consider these words "Warburg [his mentor] did not think I had sufficient ability for a successful research career ..... I came to the conclusions that my talents were quite mediocre. It was only my keen interest that drove me to keep trying for a position which would give me scope for research."
These are the words of Hans Krebs, the man who discovered how food is converted to energy (Kreb's Cycle - a mechanism conserved in every living organism on earth, 1953 Nobel prize).
OK here's a quick insight from writing papers. If a concept is clear in your mind, never ever use a complicated word, when you can use a simpler one. But hey if something is not clear to you (or anyone else for that matter), try using a very obscure word that was only common during the 16th century. The results can sometimes be gratifying (as opposed to good of course)...try it!
The short answer is unfortunately yes. I have never seen (or had) a student or postdoc who has done well and NOT worked hard (trust me I have seen a LOT). When I was seriously doing experiments (not that long ago), my experience was that I had to give every fibre of my being to find anything that was really new. So I suppose putting in long hours is kindof important, but I have come to realize that there is a specific time when one needs to really, really work hard. And that is the time time when everything is going really really well.
When one is just starting out, and simply "fooling round", trying to find something interesting to do, perhaps it is not that critical to work hard. In fact it may be argued that one should not work that hard during this time. This is a time that is typically filled with disappointment and frustration, and perhaps a cavalier attitude is best. Try your best and come what may ("whatever" as teenagers now say). Trying too hard will only lead to greater frustration, so stay focused but loose.
But when you get on the right track after a few months and in your mind's eye can see what mother nature is really saying, that's really the time to work really really hard. This is the time when the methods are all working, the constructs are all made, the experiments are all lined out (pretty much), there is only one thing to do. WORK WORK AND WORK. Get it done. There will be lots of lazy afternoons afterwards. Undoubtedly there will still be setbacks and frustrations (that's how this works, OK), but in the end the pleasure is - as Feynman famously said - in findings things out!
Some old ones Reposted...
8/18/13 - A Classification of PI's - find yours' in the list!
7/6/12 - Way to a "Science paper"
5/30/11 - 20/20 Hindsights
9/30/11 - Evolution of a bizzare, new Idea
11/17/2011 - Rationale for curiosty-driven research...
lessons from a 4 year old
1/28/12 - "GTFM" - hilarious article on grant writing!
The PI Blog
This blog exists because my wife seemed a bit tired of being the only recipient of my random pontifications on life and Science for many years; and gently encouraged me to vent in a blog instead. From time to time, I put down thoughts that occur to me as I naiively stumble through a life in Science - bestowed upon me by accident (literally!). Please keep in mind that these musings are rather obvious things of little or no use to anyone, and are certainly not personally targeted in any way, even though they are obviously derived from my experiences. OK, enough said.