Thursday, June 13, 2013

On Knowing Your Scientific Market

It's sometimes said that there's never a shortage of good ideas, and that's never been truer in science.  Good people, in contrast, are always in short supply, and resources are always limited.

So picking the best ideas to pursue given your constraints of time, people, and resources, is a fine skill to develop, but there's no consensus as to what this skill actually means.  What do you choose to do?

Do you stay true to academic ideals and work on the best scientific questions, regardless of whatever lack of money or talent that restricts you?  Will you hit your goals before someone else (who might be in a better position to do so) does?

Or do you chase the problems that potentially have high impact, even if that means that you end up chasing the hot topics of the day and never become an expert in any one field?  Buying a new hat every day will cost you dearly.

A middle road might be to stay true to your ideals, focus on what you're good at (and can deliver on in a timely manner), and research the market for problems that you, and only you, can solve efficiently.  Think about what you have, what your competition doesn't, then deliver.  No one will stand in your way.

There will always be the big important problems to solve, but they probably won't find you that often.  You have to look for them.