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The softer side of science  

2011-12-04 22:28:48|  分类: 它山之石 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Bernhard Sabel
NATURE|Vol 453|29 May 2008

Success in science is about more than mastering lab techniques. It also depends on ‘soft’ skills such as motivation, personality, research strategy and communication. It is not always easy for well-trained objective truth-seekers to consider soft skills, which are subjective. But they may help you boost your productivity and communicate your science better. 
Scientists should shield themselves from discouraging events and develop a ‘frustration tolerance’ for paper and grant rejections, criticism by well-meaning colleagues and the depressing tedium of data collection. Then there’s hypermotivation. To avoid burn-out, try relaxation (sports, yoga, meditation) and a healthy social life. Just as learning requires a quiet consolidation phase to store material in long-term memory, success in science needs intermittent silence. 
Personality traits cannot usually be changed, but there are ways to improve one’s disposition in the lab. Perfection, for example, can only be expected in pure mathematics or fairy tales. Beware of the 80–20 rule: for perfection, the last 20% of a task may take 80% of the effort — not a wise choice if you want to be productive. Worse, perfectionism is a sure path to leaving projects or papers incomplete. 
A related trap is failure to bring a project to publication. A finished experiment may satisfy your curiosity, but data are only of value to your CV and the rest of the world if published. The drive to completion is healthy, if you wish to succeed in science. Many of us have papers that are 90% finished but never submitted. Consider the time you have already invested, how little is left to do and how much effort it would take to get to the same point with another project.
Writer’s block can be a major challenge: sitting in front of a blank page, lacking the wherewithal to start writing. This may be linked to the perfectionist trap (“I do not write unless my text is perfect”), but it could also be the result of a lack of ideas, of writing ability or of self-confidence. It is usually the first 10 minutes of writing that are hardest. Try to start writing without worrying
about the presentation or structure. 
Scientific leadership qualities — exhibiting responsibility, flexibility and trust — are also essential in all aspects of science. 
These seemingly simple tasks can be taxing. But improving soft skills is a critical element of science success. ■
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Bernhard Sabel is a member of the medical faculty at the Institute of Medical Psychology at the University of Magdeburg in Germany.
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