A Cure for Listlessness


Every scientific paper requires a rationale, a reason for the researchers to embark on the work they propose. If your rationale is strong and sensible, and the work that follows is good, you’ve just written an excellent piece of scientific communication. If your rationale is farfetched and ludicrous, you’ve just written a grant application.

And if a piece of writing has no rationale at all, then it’s probably my column, Experimental Error, published on the fourth Friday of each month at Science Careers. Hi.

If you’ve been reading this column for a while, you know that I often try to set up and explain the elements in a list, such as “The Top 10 Worst Things About Working in a Lab,” or a list of rejected science journal titles. But sometimes the lists exist independently of any underlying motivation, floating in space, nebulous and purposeless, like Constitution Party nominee Virgil Goode’s 2012 presidential campaign, or Myspace. When that happens, I stick them in a Word document, which tends to disappear when my computer restarts itself because Windows installed critical updates. Thanks, Windows. Needed those updates.

This month, I’ve decided not to pretend that I have something grand to convey. I have no rationale. What I have is a bunch of lists about science and science careers. Maybe you’ll find one of them inspiring enough to tape to the door of your office next to the Thai restaurant takeout menu and the faded human genome poster from 2003.

Or maybe you’ll resent the time you will have wasted. Let’s find out!

I have no rationale. What I have is a bunch of lists about science and science careers.

And, finally, no list of lists would be complete without a list of lists that could never be made into lists:

Teaching Postdocs to Be Professors

A Modest Workforce Proposal