Mentorship is an important part of the work of professors. Here are some suggestions that I offer to students and postdoctoral scholars who are contemplating a career in research.
- Be inquisitive. Learning is an ongoing pursuit. Every day presents a new opportunity. Seize it. Be mindful of and attentive to opportunities to increase your knowledge, nurture your insight, and deepen your understanding. Engage in activities that provide rich opportunities to learn.
- Be industrious. Work hard. Manage your time wisely to make effective progress in pursuing important goals. Maintain an appropriate work-life balance, recognizing that a career is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Be ethical. Be forthright and trustworthy in all of your interactions with others. Be scrupulously honest in working with data. Read the thoughtful booklet published by the US National Academies on ‘responsible conduct in research’ (http://www.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=4917).
- Be ambitious. Be determined to succeed, even in the face of challenging obstacles. Strive to do well in ways that benefit others as well as yourself. Recognize that the pursuit of your own self-interest can align favorably with benefits to society, to the institutions that employ you, and to the people with whom you work.
- Be collegial. Collegiality, fostered by mutual respect and shared purpose, is synergistic. When collegiality is effectively practiced, the whole exceeds the sum of its parts. Beyond contributing to collective benefits, individuals who consistently exhibit a collegial spirit can realize personal gains.
- Get involved. Vitality in scholarly communities derives from active participation of its members. Join one or more professional societies with which you have an affinity. Volunteer your time. Review research articles for journals. Organize a special symposium at a conference. Join a technical committee. In addition to benefiting the community, these activities will help build your reputation.
- Master fundamentals. Become expert in your core scholarly discipline. Recognize that effective application of fundamentals from scholarly disciplines advances knowledge in multidisciplinary fields. Mastery of traditional disciplines also earns respect within those disciplines for the individuals and for their multidisciplinary domains.
- Challenge assumptions. All knowledge is provisional. Be skeptical. Question the basis of what we believe. Insist on evidence to support claims. Remain respectful and avoid cynicism.
- Read with intent. The large stock and rapid generation rate of scholarly literature requires that reading be carried out strategically. Stay abreast of research activity in your field by regularly skimming contents of key journals. Conduct thorough literature searches whenever preparing a research article or a proposal. Generate bibliographies of relevant articles; read abstracts for most; study tables and figures for some; and read meticulously the best and most relevant. Engage the material you read. Do not automatically trust that what you read is true. Compare new information to what you already know to enrich your knowledge and to deepen your understanding.
- Write with integrity. Writing is a vehicle for discovery. Recording one's scholarly ideas accurately, in a logical structure, and with appropriate supporting evidence cultivates clear thinking. Academic reward systems place high value on successful writing outcomes. Strive to realize the virtues of strong learning and teaching that are accomplished with effective writing.
Ultimately, an important aspect of a successful career is to do what you love so that you can love what you do. The challenges of becoming a successful researcher are substantial. So too are the benefits, among them the opportunity to continually develop intellectually throughout one's career.
Research is a noble endeavor. Scientific achievements have contributed materially and substantially to the state of human development. Continuing achievements from research communities are needed to enable a strong future for humankind.