Monday, May 27, 2013

The Graduate Student's Dilemma

Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.
-Arthur Schopenhauer

The targets I hit may be hit by many, but not all--and likely still only by a small minority. I fear, however, that I am too afraid to aim for targets no one else can see. Experience has trained me that even if I believe I am the only one who can see it, it has likely already been hit by someone else (likely over 50 years ago); and I quickly shy away from the risk of being "that guy" who perpetually aims at nothing.

Conclusion: I am no genius, and I accept that. What then do I expect to prove by getting this degree? Nothing. But all this school has given me time to finally learn what it takes to make a successful scientist: a little bit of talent and a lot of public relations. 

Good thing I got that communications minor back in 2010.


  1. Go boldly forward my son! You are amazing and a genius to me! Trust in the talents and skills you have been blessed can do it! You have so much potential and have achieved so much already! Love you! mom

  2. Every now and then there may be an occasional theoretical or methodological breakthrough in a field, but for the most part I think great science is just the application of old methods to new problems that arise from our ever-changing society. One of the highest-impact papers in medicine in 2011 was a study showing how electronic health records affect diabetes care. Nothing about the study was really that off the wall, it was just a very time-relevant piece. And sometimes 50+ year old research, especially in social sciences, just isn't generalizable to society now. Finally, though there are a handful of high-profile exceptions, most radical science seems to comes out of those decades into their careers, because at some point while they've been immersed in all the "non-genius" nuts and bolts research they had a thought, and enough flexibility in their grant to pursue it at least a few days until they saw whether it was likely to sink or swim. Long story short is that with more time and experience I think you'll be more likely to see those hidden targets and more confident in pursuing them. Don't sell yourself short!