Insights for success in science

February 21, 2021

In a recent post for Women in Science day 2021, environmental science, policy, and management professor Jillian Banfield shared her insights on best practices for success in science. Her thoughts were initially shared on Twitter, the text of which is reposted below.

Banfield is a renowned researcher in the fields of geomicrobiology, environmental biogeochemistry, and microbial community ecology and evolution. She is a Dana Medal recipient of the Mineralogical Society of America (2010), a fellow of the Geochemical Society, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, and the American Academy of Microbiology, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences (2006), among numerous other distinctions. Her lab researches the structure and functioning of microbial communities, how soil microbial communities respond to global climate, bioremediation, and nanogeoscience. Banfield also heads the microbial research program at the Innovative Genomics Institute at UC Berkeley, where she leads cutting-edge research using CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing techniques.

Banfield wrote, "Inspired by Women in Science day 2021, I want to share some thoughts about things that I think help ensure success in science:

  1. Avoid seeing disciplinary boundaries. Embrace new subject areas and the joy of learning. Keep stretching. 
  2. Be aware of project boundaries and respect them. Everyone needs their own research to lead without competing for their own space. 
  3. Publications are the currency of science. But don’t help others just 4 co-authorship, although that may follow. Colleagues tire of people who are pushy with regards to co-authorship.  Be generous helping others but consider your 1st reward is a network that will be invaluable. 
  4. Don’t drop the ball when others depend on you, especially when there are deadlines. Wasting the time of others due to missed meetings or failure to deliver upon commitments will damage your reputation and hinder your success. 
  5. Unconscious bias is real and insidious. Look for it in yourself first. 
  6. Don’t listen to those who disparage description-based science. Some natural processes take millions of years or involve galactic collisions. Learn from nature.
  7. We can’t test hypotheses that defy our imaginations. Sometimes you need to simply observe. 
  8. Don’t exclusively rely on software tools that make big data analysis easy. Look at the raw numbers, the patterns, the nucleotide sequences. This can avoid missing phenomena that should be in clear view. 
  9. Understand that sometimes the best possible thing can be that you were wrong. Accept it and learn from it. Never lie. 
  10. Take pride in your research accomplishments but be aware that promotion of the next generation of scientists may be your most important legacy. 
  11. Speak up if something doesn’t seem right. This won’t buy you popularity or even success in science in the short-term, but it is important. At least others will know that you have integrity. 
  12. Work on things you are passionate about, not because the topic will lead to wealth or prestige. A career in science is a long haul, and you will need genuine interest to get you through. 
  13. Aspire to be resilient. Understand that anonymous reviewers can be mean and vindictive, but overall science aspires to the highest goals. When faced by rejection, put your head down and get on with it."

See the twitter thread and follow Jill Banfield here.