In many (most?) cases I let rude comments to this blog appear along with the others. Exceptions include obscene comments (who are these people?) and what I will characterize as the boring rude comments. There were some excellent examples of boring rude comments on my last post about blondeness: a number of these commenters pointed out that my post was proof that I am a dumb blonde. Perhaps I am too dumb to follow their reasoning? I just laughed and rejected the comments.
In any case, these comments did inspire me to revisit the topic of What It Takes To Succeed in the research aspects of academia. I think I am a good example of someone who has succeeded without being brilliant (or stupid, I might add). Being a successful Science Professor at a research university requires more than just intelligence. I've seen plenty of very smart/brilliant people wash out because they lacked some necessary elements for succeeding in today's academic environment. (note: there are of course many reasons why people leave academia, and many of these reasons do not involve failure to succeed).
Two examples of these necessary elements are
(1) being able to finish a project (this is in many cases directly connected to being able to write/communicate).
The ability to finish a project -- or, what is more likely, to finish different stages of a project and publish results from those stages -- is clearly important for demonstrating productivity. Some people can do this easily, some people can do it with difficulty but still get it done, and some just can't do it. Those in the latter category include some very smart people. The two main obstacles are an inability to write and an inability to focus.
(2) having new ideas, or at least new versions of a very good initial idea
Some people do well with their Ph.D. thesis and perhaps also a postdoc if it involves a defined project, but when they are out on their own, they don't have any new ideas. Their proposals get rejected and their research program never goes anywhere.
I think I've gotten as far as I have as a medium-sharp knife in large part by being productive in terms of research results and publications, as well as by letting my research evolve in new directions. The fact that I like to write and that it comes easily to me has been a huge help to me in my academic career. I wouldn't trade my writing abilities for more IQ points.
The continuing success of my research also owes a lot to having excellent collaborators. It's important that such collaborations be sub-equal and complementary -- you each bring something useful and interesting to the collaboration, and you find a good balance in terms of who is leading various aspects of the collaborative research. This is a way of getting involved in many new projects (increasing productivity..) and having lots of fun doing the research. This is easier to do once you become more senior. When you are more junior, you have to worry about getting enough credit for your research.
So, even if you're not brilliant: if you are smart, can get things done, and can think of new things to do, you've got most of what it takes to be a science professor.
6 months ago