Scientific Perspiration

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

-Thomas Edison

If you’re average but want to be a scientist, there’s hope! With persistance and a fair amount of perspiration, you can still become a great scientist.

Most of us are not scientific genuises or autistic savants. Most of us are, well, fairly average. We should be. Most people are supposed to be average. Most of us should be C-level students. C is supposed to be average, the recent trend in grade inflation aside.

Take me, for instance. I may go to MIT and all that jazz, but really I’m quite ordinary. I have earned my share of C grades in science courses. In many ways, I’m quite dumb by MIT standards. I suffer from math anxiety, like many people, and I have trouble memorizing information. I forget mineral formulas and phase diagrams. I’m slightly dyslexic and mix-up phrases and reverse numbers. I’m a klutz, though I’m more graceful than I used to be as a kid. Still, in the lab I have to work very carefully and constantly be aware of myself. I’m the sort of person to pick crystals for three days and then accidentally knock over the beaker onto the floor of the lab. I’ve done it before.

I am a fairly creative thinker and a decent writer, but in most other ways I’m about average. I hardly fall into the catagory of MIT genius. Like most people in the world, I don’t solve problems in fluid mechanics by gazing into my coffee cup (like Einstein) or take up animal behavior studies by training the ants in my bedroom (like Feynman). Unlike other MIT students, I don’t play competetive scrabble in my free time or whisk off to Vegas to win thousands by card-counting at Blackjack. I’m just a fairly average graduate student, my MIT credentials aside.

Still, there is hope for me as an average scientist. And there’s hope for you, too, if you’re also average like me! This hope comes from the fact that good science does not come exclusively from intellectual giants who come up with a great idea and immediately change the way one views the universe. We are not all Einsteins, Feynmans, or Sagans. Even these great thinkers had to work fairly hard, long hours to come up with their strongest science. Sure, they were naturally talented in mathematics and their respective scientific fields, but that wasn’t enough. They also had to spend countless hours calculating, measuring, and writing. They not only had to come up with their ideas but they also had to figure out how to prove them and explain them to others.

As science grows more complex and inderdisciplinary, the role of many hundreds of average scientists will be just as valuable as the role of one or two great thinkers. There are many problems science needs to tackle in this century and beyond, and we need as many minds as possible working on these problems. In order to be able to cure cancer and figure out issues such as climate change and sustainable energy, we need global scientific efforts.

I think a great misconception in the world is that one has to be really smart or naturally great at mathematics and science to be a good scientist. This is false, in my opinion. Sure, having some natural ability doesn’t hurt. More important, though, is having a real passion for science and being willing to work hard at science because of this passion.

When it comes down to it, science is often about persistence. Because science explores the unknown, there are no certaintities. There’s a big difference between the textbook answers in a freshman college physics or chemistry lab and real scientific research. Scientific research is more often than not one step forward, ten steps back. Progress can be very slow and tedious. A great idea can take months to years to test and verify. Sometimes, smart people are not very good at hard work and persistence.

In my own life I’ve watched friends give up on science degrees when there were suddenly no textbook answers, when success required working through a little frustration. An ex-boyfriend of mine switched to finance after he realized biology was “a little more difficult” beyond the introductory level. He was smart enough to become a biologist, but he didn’t want to work hard for the answers that were not already there. The same semester he switched to finance, he joined a fraternity, got drunk every night, and we broke up. He moved on to a pretty Asian girl, and I moved on to a research job in a geology lab. I like to think I chose science over him. It sounds more romantic than “he dumped me for a hot Asian chick.”

Personal stories aside, though, I feel that often the scientists who make the most valuable contributions to science are not the smartest ones but rather the most persistent ones. These persistent scientists may not be geniuses in the Einstein sense, but they are willing to trudge away for years at a task that many might find extremely frustrating or boring. For instance, the Serbian geophysicist Milutin Milankovic was smart, but he became famous not because of one brilliant idea. Rather, he became famous because he devoted himself for thirty years to the tedious calculations associated with the planetary and solary system cycles that affect climate and ice ages. The Milankovic Cycles controlled by Earth’s orbital shape, eccentricity, and axial tilt are now recognized to play an important, natural role in climate regulation. The theory that physical variations in Earth’s movement may affect climate had been advanced before Milankovic. However, Milankovic was the first person to sit down and grind through the tedious calculations, so the cycles are named after him. He was willing to do the hard, often boring work that others were less willing to pursue. He worked hard and became famous.

Fortunately, modern technology is somewhat easing the amount of hard– or at least monotonous– work that scientists must do these days. Computer programs make repetitive calculations much more bearable and also much faster. Fancy equipment in the lab automates many of the more laborious aspects of chemistry, physics, biology, and engineering. Once one works his (or her!) way up the ranks somewhat in science, one can also hire graduate students, a cheap and often efficient way to complete less-than-desirable yet still important calculations or tasks in the lab.

Regardless, I think that dedication and hard work still counts for a great amount in science these days. At least, that’s what I tell myself. I am not the hardest worker in my lab, by any means. I do often work long hours, though, and I try not to complain when the tasks are repetitive or frustrating.

For the last three days straight, I have been picking plagioclase crystals under a microscope. By picking I mean selecting crystals that are not altered significantly so that they are good “bottles” for the radioactive isotopes I am using to date the basalts from which these crystals came. These crystals are very small– they’re about 250 microns wide, on average. I use a very small pair of tweezers and pick in a dish filled with ethanol so that the crystals don’t stick to my tweezers as I’m picking them. I have been picking between eight and twelve hours a day with limited breaks. I go to the microscope, pick for a couple of hours, have a cup of tea, pick for another hour, eat lunch, pick for a few more hours, check email, pick for an hour, go to the gym, pick for two or three more hours, and then go home. By the end of the day, my right hand muscles ache and my eyes are sore. I walk home seeing tiny white plagioclase crystals dancing in front of me. While picking, I have listened to just about all the music I own and have started begging my friends for new mixes.

I’m exhausted, but I don’t mind my crystal picking too much. The task is monotonous, but it’s also very important. Picking crystals by hand is the best way to ensure that the dates I end up obtaining for the basalt rocks are the best dates possible. If I know the the crystals are good (unaltered, pure, clean plagioclase) then I can have confidence in my ages once I determine them three or four months from now. For a couple of unpleasant weeks of picking now, I’ll have a great scientific return in the future… hopefully, anyway. Nothing is guaranteed in science research, after all, but my chances for good data are high.

The work I’m doing now may not be as significant as, say, thirty years of Milankovic calculations. Regardless, as I sit here in my lab, at the microscope, picking away for hours on end, I feel somewhat romantic. Hey, I may not be the smartest scientist around. Here I am at MIT, though, and dammit I’m going to work hard.

So, that’s my message for today: a little enthusiam and dedication can go a long way in science. Not the brightest but still want to be scientist? That’s okay. Work hard, and you can succeed in science. At least, I hope so. We certainly need more scientists in the world, so it shouldn’t just be the very top cream of the crop who pursue degrees and careers in science. We need some average, hard-working people to become scientists, too. And after all, even scientific genuises have to work hard to provide concrete support for their far-fetched theories.


Evelyn is a geologist, writer, traveler, and skeptic residing in Cape Town, South Africa with frequent trips back to the US for work. She has two adorable cats; enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and kayaking; and has a very large rock collection. You can follow her on twitter @GeoEvelyn. She also writes a geology blog called Georneys.

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  1. I find it odd that you prefaced this post with the quote from Thomas Edison, which, while true doesn’t quite tell the whole story.

    You see quite a bit of the perspiration Edison was talking about wasn’t his, it was his employee’s. Edison got famous (and rich) not by doing the all the drudgery, but by seeing to it that others did it. He patented and promoted the results.

    Not that Edison wasn’t smart.

    But part of being intelligent is knowing when not to work.

  2. Thanks again Evelyn, for showing how science is an intensely human activity. The tedium, the sacrifices, the long hours and the frustration. And the times of wonder and clarity that make up for what has gone before.

    Your writing skills are well above average. I encourage you to continue to develop them in parallel with your chosen profession. There can never be enough scientists who are also effective popularizers of their particular fields and science in general.

  3. Evelyn said: or take up animal behavoir studies by training the ants in my bedroom (like Feynman).

    It's not the misspelling of behavior that caught my attention, it's waking up and seeing yet another post about what I was thinking about. As Expatria said to Exarch, "Get out of my head!" :-)

    Seriously, where were you when I was two years old…through high school? The thing I was thinking about was animal behavior – it was my first "love," so much so, that even at two years old I was incredibly sneaky about getting to animals (it also played a big part in my atheism). One thing I hated the idea of and just couldn't do was dissecting. I managed to get through junior high and high school without dissecting even a frog. I'd look at the pigs in the jars, etc. and figure out ways to avoid that class. I'd save a firefly's or bumble bee's life, but I just wasn't interested in internal organs. Not that I have any problem with other people cutting up bodies, I just didn't like it. But I could sit for hours observing the behavior of a crab. I just didn't like all the work that would have gone into getting to the point where I could study a crab as part of a career. Or whatever – wildlife photography, or something.

    Drudgery does have its payoffs, and not necessarily ones that amount to money, degrees or fame. One of the happiest days of my life was when my father brought the mail out to the island we used to vacation on, and in it was my college report card for the graduate level class I took in Old English, which I slaved over for hours, overstudied for the tests, all with having had my expensive textbook stolen, etc. etc. The professor gave me a A+ (the only one he gave out). A 4.0 is a 4.0 with a + or no +, but that little + was the world to me, because I knew had worked so hard – hours and hours of sitting at a table flipping pages. I actually cried out of happiness (an extremely rare thing) and was bouncing all day.

    Math is another thing – you mention grades. In elementary school we got money for our report cards – there was much emphasis on grades. I still have all those report cards and they were usually all As and a B…in math. As far as I was concerned, I wasn't good enough in math and I slowly began to resent it. The point is a C is average – and that's OK. Most people are average. I don't like grade inflation either, but it would help if some parents didn't put so much pressure on being better than average in all things – a C is fine if that's the best you can do (it's not fine if you didn't even try or study).

    Your thoughts are very good, Evelyn. Find something that gets your motor running and accept the drudgery, do the hard work and don't expect or care about being Feynman, but maybe just ask What Would Richard Feynman Do? :-)

    (I better stop babbling now, but I could say much more about this.)

  4. Oopsy, the bold tag was supposed to close after "Exarch." Need more coffee. Or chocolate. ;-)

    Fixed by the power of the supreme editing God.

  5. Great piece of work. Even the discoveries that are deemed groundbreaking are often based on the work done by us average scientists. Glad to see I'm not the only one who feels this way.

  6. Wow, thanks for a brilliant article. I only wish I had something like this when I was 15 and unsure about what to do! Years of bad science teachers had sucked all my science-y passion out so I never did go to college to study it.

    Have you thought of submitting this to a teen-type magazine? Get to the girls while they’re young!

  7. Hi, I’m new here and just want to say I really like your Blog!

    You think the work you’re doing now may not be as significant as, say, thirty years of Milankovic calculations.

    Well, you don’t know yet. Scientific progress goes BOINK! I’m not sure that Milankovic knew, no doubt he just had a feeling it might be.

  8. Excellent post, as always, Evelyn! You are 100% correct in your conclusions about the importance of persistence in getting through to the end of your PhD. I speak as one whose mule-headed stubbornness was (and is) in great excess to my brilliance (or lack thereof). My PhD came from the place just up the street from you (in applied physics) and was much more a function of how hard I worked than how smart I was. I would say that many (if not most) of my fellow grad students were better students intellectually than I was, but I was at least as good (if not better) in the lab.

    Oddly enough, I also spent much of my time transferring small (250micron) bits of silicon into and out of a dish of methanol on the tip of a pin. In the end, after 7 years, all of my data came from only 6 samples. I even managed to find and retrieve one of the bits after I had dropped it on the floor! My only advice is to stick to de-caf tea!

    Keep your head down, and keep trudging your way on forward. You'll definitely make it, especially with your flair for writing. Brilliance is overrated. Given the option, I would rather be brilliant AND persistent. But if I had to choose, I'd take persistence.

    And I second the motion for you to try to publish this (and other of your posts) in some kind of teen or pre-teen magazine for girls.

  9. exarch said:

    "You could be pretty smart and a slacker, and still not get anywhere ’cause, … you’re a slacker. "

    Again…GET OUT OF MY HEAD!! Gaaa!!

    But on a more serious note, yes, this is in fact quite true. I think part of my admiration for those who heed the call to become scientists stems from the fact that I am almost completely incapable of forcing myself to work and work HARD on something tedious. I have been considered 'intelligent' and a 'good student' by most of my teachers/professors/employers to this point, but that really is only half of the equation.

    I've been fortunate to have a few key things in my favor: a decent memory, good writing skills, and the ability to fill in the gaps with grade A, 100% Prime BS. Does this mean I don't work hard when push comes to shove? No. But I certainly feel less impressed by my academic success than others around me do, as I constantly feel as if I'm getting away with something. I may not be, for all I know. I may actually be 'smart'… but I still feel like I'm pulling off a scam.

    My ability to do this was particularly enraging to my roommate during my first two years of undergrad. He was an engineering student, and a very dedicated worker. He felt the opposite way: as if he needed to forcibly ram every fact into his head by sheer weight of studying. He'd sometimes spend as much as 13 hours a day in the library, and this by only his second year in his degree.

    It used to drive him absolutely nutty when I would do extremely well in my liberal arts courses yet he'd still be average (or just as often above it!) in his engineering and science courses. And honestly, I can't blame him for feeling that way. Were I in his shoes, there is no doubt I'd have failed out of university in my first year, instead of graduating from a five-year program in four years as he did.

    And I'm sure he'll have the last laugh yet. He found a good job pretty soon after finishing school, while I temped for two years before returning to academia (for an even more pointless degree in Film Studies). I'm continuing to accrue financial aid debt while he's living in the 'real world' and likely having a blast.

    If it isn't obvious yet, the tide has quite plainly turned. While he USED to be jealous of my ease in academia, now I'm jealous of his work ethic and willingness to be dedicated to REALLY learning his field. I'm still here 'getting away with' the best grades in my postgrad program…but all the while I'm gnawed to the bone by my doubts as to how much I'm truly learning.

    So, in short, I'm thoroughly green-eyed with envy towards Evelyn and anyone LIKE her who can put in the hours to work and not be afraid to come out 'average' at the end of it. While you guys out there make science happen, and REALLY understand it…I read 'popularizations' and ask physicist friends of mine to explain concepts as simple as why there are odours in the world.

    Anyway, I've rambled enough. But yes, those of you who can DO things, keep on doing them! I'll read about it all ten years from now when someone makes it accessible to us sad, smart slackers who, in the end, have gotten away with absolutely nothing, really, save the illusion of knowledge we've never had to work to gain. On the shoulders of giants, indeed…

  10. Thanks, everyone, for your compliments. I just write off the top of my head, so I'm glad to see that what I'm thinking is important to others as well.

    If you think it is a good idea to publish this article and other blog entries I've written, I'd welcome your suggestions about which blog pieces you like and what magazines/venues might be appropriate for publication.

    I agree… we need more scientist writers in the world! I hope I can do my part in science writing.

  11. Hey, there's nothing simple about the olfactory sense system! It's an amazing broad-spectrum chemical detector that we have yet to come close to replicating in anything smaller than a largish microwave… yet it fits neatly in our head.

    That said, and back on topic, I can vouch for the smart + slacker = going nowhere. I am, according to that most non-informative of current metrics – the IQ – well above average in intelligence. I am also, by nature, lazy. I've almost never had to study hard in my life and it shows. When I finally did run across a challenging topic it took me by surprise and I quickly decided it wasn't worth the trouble (lazy). So, I moved onto easier things (which other folks tell me are still quite hard…meh) and now, many years later and bored to death in my profession, I regret it intensely.

    I've been told countless times I should have been "X" (physicist, doctor, mathematician, and a host of others) but I never had the persistence to do any of those things because, even for a "smart" person, they turned out to be hard to do. I've since shed most of my laziness (ok, I still like to sleep 'till noon on Sunday if I can get away with it) through much effort but it is too late now to re-apply myself and go for one of those "hard" professions. So I sit here, in a job that poses no challenges, bored silly and hating it… because I'm smart and I was lazy.

    Now, I'm by no means a failure – I make decent money. I'm well respected by my peers and co-workers. I'm the "go to guy" for things they can't figure out…. but I most certainly did not live up to my potential. I’m actively ashamed of that fact. I'm jealous of folks who seem to have been born with that innate drive to try even when it was VERY hard. I'd also be willing to bet that you see that drive in folks of "average" intelligence more often than you see it in genius types.

    Being smart means that you may never be challenged at a young age and therefore you may not learn how to work hard in those formative years. At least I attribute that to part of my laziness… another factor would be fear of failure. I never failed at anything until I hit college – heck, I never even struggled. So, when presented with a situation in which I was not master of all without even trying I folded, and quickly. I didn’t know how to handle having to work at something and it scared me – I never learned that failure is not something to fear but just another way to learn – I’m past that now but it was not an easy thing and I wish I had learned the lesson young. It's why with my son I go out of my way to make sure that he is VERY challenged – if school doesn't do it then I do. He will have no fear of failure, he will have experienced it and overcome it (in a positive way!) many times before he gets to university… at least I hope he will – with my luck he’ll be a real genius and nothing I throw at him will challenge him in the least!

    Oh well, we all try to keep our kids from repeating our mistakes I guess. I may not have been persistent as a kid but I certainly will be in making sure my son is! At least that part of my potential I can still live up to.

  12. I went to college not necessarily planning to become a scientist, but I found that I really enjoyed doing research, and I decided to keep doing it as long as I enjoyed it. When I visited U. Wisconsin as a prospective graduate student in astronomy, one of the faculty (who would later become my advisor) told me, "if there's anything else that you are half good at, do that instead (of going to grad school)." Professional training in science requires a LOT of sacrifices, and luck plays almost as big a role as effort in finding a permanent job. Evelyn is right; you don't have to be absolutely brilliant to become a scientist, you just have to be reasonably bright and you have to do it because you love it. You definitely can not just treat it like any other job.

  13. I guess the really smart people tend to, on average, drop out when faced with something really challenging. Like many, I never really had to "work" in primary school to get good grades. I think in my class, two kids got advanced exercises for some subjects, like math, but I suppose I wasn't quite smart enough to warrant special challenges. Or I slacked so much on my homework it didn't really show that I could've done what they did.

    Then once I hit highschool, I got held back after the first year. My slacking didn't cut it there, so I stepped it up a notch, doing a bit more work, but just enough to cruise by on average grades.

    I too got bored out of my skull at my previous IT job. And they sacked me and I haven't really bothered to look for something else yet. I'm a slacker if ever there was one. There's a few things that I can really get exitec and motivated about, but those aren't things I could make money with, or I could, but as soon as I was forced to make a living on them, it would become work, tedious, and I4d start hating it like any other job I've done foor too long.

    I've already resigned myself to becoming an eternal job-hopper. Getting bored after a few years, and then waiting until they kick me out to find something else.

    Most importantly though, I'm not worried. I have enough skills to find something to do. I'll just won't be doing it with a passion.

  14. StarkMad:

    While exarch has been reading my mind, you've come from my future! Egad!

    Your experiences sound almost eerily like mine. It's uncanny. I just hope I can find something that challenges me which I actually want to pursue enough to get past the challenge. I've still got time, but I can't keep taking out student loans and fleeing back to school whenever I get bored or realize I'm at a dead end!

    I agree with what you said about not being challenged enough early on in life. If there's one thing in education that I think I'd like to see changed within my lifetime, it's the way that the system is often afraid to provide a higher level of coursework to students who might be up to it. Educators fear sapping the other kids of motivation by making a sort of 'elite' out of the bored 'gifted' students, making everyone else feel jealous and self-conscious…but there's got to be a way around it to reach everyone on a level that helps them be their best. I just don't know what that way would be…

  15. Expatria, I think the answer is teachers who actually have time to do stuff like that. I think cureently, the teachers who actually give a damn are already swamped with work. I think they just don't have any more time to sacrifice to help special student get challenged when they've got enough trouble keeping the bottom of the class from slipping through the cracks.

  16. Well, I think the idea that the other kids would be somehow harmed by advancing the clearly brighter kids isn't giving them very much credit. I don't look at the Einstein's, Feynman's, and Hawking's of the world and get upset that I'll never be that kind of brilliant and I don't think most anybody else does either. Kids are much more perceptive than most adults ever give them credit for – they recognize when people are different. They can see as well as any adult, and often times better than most, when a kid is bored. They can see that results in a disruptive kid in class and most (not all of course) would rather see that kid elsewhere or so engaged that they're no longer the class clown or problem child.

    The whole idea of not putting kids where they are challenged just so you don't offend or hurt the feelings of the other kids is stupidity at it's finest. Are we trying to turn out only average minds and average people in our schools or is the goal to educate everyone as well as they can be? To me we aren't even teaching to average anymore but to the lowest common denominator. As an example, my nephew was recently admonished for bringing in his own literature to class and not reading the class book during reading time like everybody else. He's 8 and he was reading a compendium of Edgar Allen Poe… because he had finished the class assigned book in less than a week after it was handed out. The assigned book was meant to last 7 weeks and was only 165 pages long. Luckily, a swiftly placed call to the principal set the teacher right and she now leaves him to read at his own pace. The teacher actually thought it was more important for him to conform and read with the class than it was for him to read what interested and challenged him. She completely missed that the point of reading time was to get the kids to READ! This made me so angry I cannot put it politely onto paper.

    Sorry for the rant – this issue strikes close to home for me.

    As for you… I urge you to make that effort. Even when it's scary, hard, painful or boring. Do it for yourself – it's the best thing you can ever give to you! Failure in some things now may hurt, but not like the regret of potential wasted. You are clearly a smart person, if you don't give it your very best effort you will, one day, wake up to the realization of the mistake you've made and the further realization that it is now firmly too late to do anything much about it. That day REALLY bites. Avoid it. I sure wish I had!

    Now, having just re-read what I've written here I realize that it sounds as though my life is empty and full of regret… it isn't. I have my wife whom I love and my son who, everyday, teaches me what love really is. I have more hobbies than I have time for. I have a pile of books on my ‘to read’ list that I will never complete in a lifetime! The work I do, while not challenging, is beneficial to my community and I derive satisfaction from that. My life is full and largely rewarding…. it's just not what it could have been had I simply been more motivated. I probably wouldn't have been rich had I worked harder, probably wouldn’t have been happier in my life overall… but I know I could have made better use of the blob between my ears and probably left the world a better place than I found in more significant ways than I can now. I do regret my lack of persistence as a younger man (I originally wrote young man… but hey! I’m not old yet!) but that does not define me… it still sucks though!

    I imagine many people hit a point in life where they look back and think they could have done it better… the problem is I can pinpoint those moments in my life with ease and I’m fairly sure most folks can’t do that. Ah well, live and learn!

  17. Exarch piped in while I was typing my long winded rant/response. I agree with him.

    Unfortunately I have found that the good teachers are getting much rarer with each passing year… and who can blame them. It must be supremely frustrating to want to teach and teach well only to have overcrowded classes where doing that is next to impossible. Put having to deal with fellow teachers who simply punch the clock, parents who can't be bothered to be involved in the childs education, along with beauracracies that eat 60-70% of every $ sent to the schools before it even makes it to the classroom and I can't blame the good ones for giving up and moving onto careers where they can live above the poverty line. It's a sad state of affairs indeed.

  18. StarkMad, you bring up some great points. I'm personally most sick of the band-aid style approach that the politicians and the bureaucracies take towards fixing any of these problems. "What, you've severed your left arm? Well, let's slap a band-aid on there for now, that should fix it up in no time." Then they wonder why, years down the line, the quick fix no longer holds. Grr…

    Anyway, I'm trying to challenge myself more than I used to. Packing up for a year in England was not an easy thing to do for someone like me, so I'm working on it. I wish the work here at school was somewhat more…stimulating…and less woo-woo. I'm amazed at what passes for 'theory' within the field of film studies…relying on models of perception that take absolutely no account of the brain, the eyes, or even the actual responses people have to watching films. It's amazing…

    Regardless, I know I'm still not doing enough to challenge myself and 'working on it' isn't going to cut it, so I've got to do something more. I'm hoping that I can find some kind of difficult job after this, one that forces my nose to the grindstone. But we'll see.

    Enough about my lack-of-effort, though. Evelyn's post was too good for me to steal her thunder this way :-P

  19. New reader here–a friend turned me onto your blog via the Darwininian pickup lines.

    I just had to share a story from my own life. Or, rather, the story of my own life, or at least my working career.

    I am a data analyst for a market research company–previously I worked as an RA in a cognitive aging lab. I am also dyscalculic.

    This seems contradictory, and often leads to embarassing moments that start with "Hey, you're a statistician, why don't you figure out the check?" and end with me handing the check to someone else because I can't consistently add two numbers in my head.

    But see, most of the work I do is done in SPSS. I understand statistical concepts–at least basic ones; the ones learned in a grad-level psych stats course, which is all the formal statistical education I have–enough to select the correct analyses. Does this mean I can do an ANOVA out by hand and get the correct results? Not consistently, no. The problem isn't the concepts, it's the figures. And ultimately, the concepts are the most important bits.

    I still consider myself a scientist–oh, all right, an empiricist, at least. That was my training (I have a BA in cognitive science) and it's stuck with me. Sadly, the work I do now is not all that intellectually rewarding, though it is more financially and sanity-rewarding, compared to my previous job. I ultimately decided not to get a graduate degree because I realized it would mean a significant amount of work on the same topic, and I wasn't sure I had the passion for any one topic to sustain the work for the amount of time it would take. As I mature, I may change my mind about this. But I am ultimately very glad that I realized fresh out of college that getting a graduate degree was WORK, and took the time to immerse myself in an academic environment and learn what that meant before committing myself to a program.

    Thanks for writing this. I think a lot of people need this kind of kick in the pants right about their senior year in college.

  20. I like the ideas in this post, but I must beg for a little skepticism about a popular myth.

    I’m slightly dyslexic and mix-up phrases and reverse numbers.

    Neither transposing numerals and letters nor writing them in mirror image are indicators of dyslexia or Learning Disabilities. Individuals with dyslexia may make more "reversal" errors than their non-disabled peers, but the proportion of reversal errors to total errors is about equal. I've explained this idea on LD Blog as part of a campaign to correct this mistaken idea.

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