What has always impressed me about scientists is their singular focus on improving the world through their line of work. It’s hard to find one who genuinely doesn’t care about bringing tangible, significant, and permanent impact to society.
While I’m not sure yet if I want to be a researcher myself, I do know that I want to approach my career in the same intense, obsessed way that researchers approach theirs in the pursuit of improving other people’s lives.
Here are the concrete ways I plan to do this.
- Make lifetime impact the #1 goal. Many athletes, musicians, economists and models struggle dearly with the decline of their prominence after their peak years, but in my opinion it shouldn’t be that way. Performance isn’t the end all be all; impact is. Rather, I’d like to always see the future for the possibilities for more impact to be made. In research, there are numerous avenues for impact beyond directing research projects: teaching, mentorship, public intellectualism, community building…and on and on.
- Think and talk about what it means to improve people’s lives in public and with everyone. It’s necessary to constantly grapple with the question of what it means to help others for us to find the best way to do it. Open dialogue is key–science remains relevant in the world not because it is inherently so, but because it is constantly under debate, revision, and efforts for overhaul. Straightforward truth about the world is the result of directed effort to extract it from confusion and chaos.
- Articulate and choose what trade-offs that you personally must navigate in order to do the best work. There are a million factors that will influence what you can and want to work on in any given moment like your personal life, financial needs, career stage and opportunities available to you. Choose intentionally. Even tenured professors in practice can’t just work on anything they want at any time; it always takes long term planning and calculated risk-taking to pull off any project.
- Pick a meritocratic system, win it, and make it better. Once a researcher gets involved in a field, their goal is to do work worthy of recognition, and to gain prominence in the associated communities. One of the highest honors one can have is the power and responsibility to alter the system they succeeded within for the better, and make it more effective at future generations of great scientists. Make it inclusive, equitable, and accessible for others. Refuse to tolerate harassment.
- Have thorough opinions on what it means to do good work–a kind of craftsmanship. To figure out how to get better at helping people, one must decide what “better” means. Scientists are horrendously opinionated on what work is good, and it drives science forward. Personally, I want to continually try to make more direct, concrete, permanent, and significant positive impact. What that looks like in the particular field I am in at the moment will heavily depend on my niche in the field.