What makes a great scientist? Part 6: Passion

327505_10150576924224447_441199125_oA career in science can be challenging in many ways, I already wrote about the need for perseverance in a previous post of this “series”. Thus, it is perhaps not surprising that great scientists have passion for what they do. Because you are more likely to persevere if you are pursuing something that is really worth it, something that you are passionate about. You need to love the question you are pursuing to avoid complete despair when your field experiment goes wrong, your models are not converging, your script is not working, or your collaborators fail you. All of these things WILL happen if you do science, so if you are going to stick with it, you need to really want to know the answer.

In my years in academia (I love to be able to sound old and wise with sentences like this), I have occasionally met people, generally in early career stages, who saw science as a job. I am using job in a pejorative way here: as something you must do to make money to do what you really want. Now, science is a job in the sense of something that provides a salary (whether all great scientists work as scientists is another question, but here I am focusing on those that do, scientists that make a salary doing science). But it is also much more. It is not something you must do, but something you almost cannot help doing. Great scientists have passion beyond 5 pm (I don’t advocate long working hours, just flexibility. In fact procrastination can be good and inspiring). Great scientists have curiosity beyond established protocols and designed questions, and have motivation beyond a salary. The reality is that if you don’t, you are unlikely to become one of those people making a salary working as scientists (let alone become a great scientist).

However, my motivation to write this post was not to glorify the passion that scientists have for their job. Instead, I wanted to highlight another feature I have encountered among those great scientists I have had the pleasure to meet over the years. Passion for something else besides science. Music, art, sports. Great scientists love science but also have creative outlets and find time for themselves. Many days they want to stay after 5 pm (or 8 or whatever time you want to consider here) to do science. But sometimes they drop what they are doing and go do yoga, make pottery, sing in a chorus, or hike mountains. And they do that with PASSION.

So if you are starting a PhD and have that passion for science, do not feel guilty about your other passion(s); and if you haven’t found your other passion(s) go search for it. It will make you a better scientist. Or so I like to think, Did I mention I signed up for pottery classes again?

*in case you are wondering, I made the teapot in the image, during my PhD.

**I am not claiming a passion for something other than science makes you a great scientist by itself, nor that my pottery interest is  evidence of my scientific rank in any way.


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