Embrace Uncertainty

An excerpt from my recent Working Life editorial in Science.

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I am often asked, “What advice can you give to graduate students?” When this happens I have to pause a moment, as I was an unusual case: an English-major undergraduate who went on to graduate study in physics. The first thing that comes to mind is to explore as much as possible, because eureka moments do happen. And when they do, don’t be afraid of the decisions that may arise. My own came when, as a college graduate, I was watching a television show about neutron stars. As I listened to researchers discuss their observations and theories, a long-dormant light switched on, and I knew I had to realize my childhood dream of becoming a physicist. It would be a challenge, but I was confident in my passion, and it was a risk I was willing to take.

I am also asked, “What prepared you for being a graduate student?” Perhaps surprisingly, the single thing that most prepared me to persevere with the trials of graduate school was rock climbing. I’m not advocating that all graduate students become climbers, but for me it was both an engaging passion and a metaphor for my professional progress. Climbing requires trust in one’s partners, patience, practice, and more practice. The moments of expansiveness when you are at rest—perched on a crag hundreds of feet above a valley floor with your mind roaming freely—can lead to epiphanies. Making room for passions outside your research, and time for friends and family, enables you to be a more whole person, and a more whole scientist.

Here are a few more pieces of advice I would like to share …

Read the full article here: http://bit.ly/1QBJsoV

Photo: radiation from the pulsar PSR B1509-58, a rapidly spinning neutron star, makes nearby gas glow in X-rays and illuminates a nebula. Credit: NASA/CXC/SAO (X-Ray); NASA/JPL-Caltech (Infrared)