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Being Smart Helps; Being Persistent is Essential

Posted on February 15, 2006

Robert C. Pianta (bio) offers some advice on looking at the big picture when it comes to your career and research.


I think often times for junior investigators it can be very challenging to try to conduct the kind of research they would like to be able to be doing or the kind of studies they read about in graduate school in the first couple of years of their career or trying to do the kind of work that they see being done around them in the departments in which they may be working.

If someone asked me, 'What is the quality that makes someone successful in this business?' Being smart is one thing; being persistent is the thing that separates the wheat from the chaff I think. People have to understand that it's not a single study per se that's going to be the contribution or the make-or-break contribution to their career but a persistent pattern of effort over time where an investigator has an idea of the prize that they're trying to achieve, and they keep their eye on that prize over the course of a period of time.

I read a lot of promotion materials that get sent to me because I write outside letters when you're going up for promotion and people ask outside letters to be written to evaluate a person's career, and lots of times you'll see in a dossier some great ideas and some very strong conceptual background, but you don't see necessarily a pattern of work that's accumulating over the course of a four or five year trajectory and plans for where the person sees that work going.

I think the more investigators, junior investigators, have in their mind a sense of their own trajectory and where they'd like to see themselves ten years out and be patient at the same time being persistent then they're more likely to achieve that rather than try to fire the silver bullet that's going to be the study that carries the day. Very few of us publish one study that carries the day, but it's a cumulative body of work that in the end somebody can look at and say, 'This person's known for this area, and these are the set of contributions they've made within that area.'

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Excerpted from interview with researcher in April 2005.


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