Monday, June 29, 2009

Slow/good/fun science

Ben Powell alerted me to a stimulating post and comments about "Slow science" on the Quantum Pontiff blog.

It is worth thinking about. Here are a few random thoughts:

This gets back to a point I made in a few earlier "career advice" posts. Good reliable influential science is hard. Consequently, it is slow.

I think we all need to do more "slow" science. We would produce higher quality work AND enjoy ourselves more.

Don't blame the "system".
Focus on your "circle of influence" (e.g, what you CAN change: how you choose to spend your time, how you review grant proposals, and papers) rather than your "circle of concern" (i.e., what you care about but can't change, e.g., the way universities hire, promote, etc., funding agencies make decisions).

In spite of all the flaws of the "system" and the bean counters I think it is still clear that really significant work is rewarded.

I agree with John Preskill (and Clint Eastwood) each of us need to know our limitations. We are not all as brilliant as some of those who practice "slow" science, produce significant work, and prosper. We need to distinguish cause and effect. Trying to emulate Kitaev, Duncan Haldane, or John Cardy, Feynman, or Lars Onsager is not an option for most of us!

Tobias Osborne asks where does the pressure come from to keep producing papers ("correct but boring") and be in the limelight?
I think it is largely internal, i.e., psychological.
It is from habit, addiction, desire for affirmation,..
It is easier than the hard work of doing significant work.

Would you like to be freed up to spend 20% of your time doing "slow" science?
Here's how. It is "simple". Just say NO to 20% of the requests you get to collaborate, write conference papers, apply for grants, give seminars, review papers, review grants, sit on committees, go to conferences, .....
I doubt that the resulting 20% cut in "productivity" (hopefully, the 20% least valuable) will have much impact on how impressive your CV is.


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