Inspiration


The start of a new year may be largely symbolic, but it is a time when most of us try to reengage our good habits, renew our interests, and fix our flaws. Arguably, such new beginnings are especially important for new scientists: A lapse in energy or enthusiasm while writing a thesis, setting up a lab, or interviewing for jobs can do serious, long-term damage. If they aren’t vigilant, established scientists, too, can succumb to routine and boredom, and productivity can take a hit.

So, to honor the new year and help scientists young and old recharge their batteries and renew their efforts toward achieving their research and career goals, we at Science Careers pulled together some of our most inspirational, empowering, and invigorating articles.

Often as not, resilience ends up being the difference between success and failure.

New Year’s Resolutions for Early-Career Scientists by Simon Williams, 1 January 2014 Simon Williams challenges early-career scientists to put a science twist on this year’s resolutions and set some strategies for sticking to them.

Give Science Some Slack by Jim Austin, 4 December 2013 Knowledge workers are motivated by the work itself and the pleasure of doing it, by an internal drive to find answers or to make things.

Goal-Setting Strategies for Scientific and Career Success by Cynthia N. Fuhrmann, Jennifer A. Hobin, Philip S. Clifford, and Bill Lindstaedt, 3 December 2013 myIDP helps structure the process of setting and pursuing short-term goals as you move toward the fulfillment of your career aspirations.

Science as a Verb by Maria Fadri-Moskwik, 18 November 2013 Maria Fadri-Moskwik often tells anyone who will listen that she has the best job she could imagine because she spends her day doing things that will allow her to better understand the world.

Why I Do Science by Sushil Devkota, 11 November 2013 The euphoria of discovery and the knowledge that his discoveries may help someone provide Sushil Devkota sufficient motivation to keep pushing forward.

Shadowboxing by François L. Mayer, 9 October 2013 An unorthodox teacher—of German literature—inspired François Mayer to pursue a career in science.

The Benefits of a Doubt by Niamh M. C. Connolly, 12 July 2013 Doubt and uncertainty can be uncomfortable, but they have the potential to lead to better science.

Forging the Way for Other Minority Scientists by Elisabeth Pain, 22 May 2013 Realizing that she could be a potential inspiration to young students from underprivileged backgrounds made Knatokie Ford return to Harvard and finish her Ph.D.

Surviving as a Postdoc by Charmaine Tam, 6 March 2013 Australian postdoc Charmaine Tam shares tips on how to make it through this early phase of a research career.

Getting Back Your Mojo by Michael Price, 7 December 2012 Psychologists share tips for figuring out what’s sapping your enthusiasm—and how to get it back.

Successful Careers: A Matter of Confidence by Sharon Ann Holgate, 23 November 2012 Identifying and addressing self-confidence issues can help early-career scientists make swifter progress.

Life at the Bottleneck by Ruth Müller, 26 October 2012 As a scholar of science and technology studies, it has been important for Ruth Müller to work out other potential interests and fields of occupation to increase her resilience to career anxieties.

Documenting Exposure for Disease Prevention by Elisabeth Pain, 21 September 2012 Occupational health is a field where things are slow and difficult to change because of enormous economical stakes, but epidemiologist Emilie Counil finds in this inequity a source of motivation.

You Need a Game Plan by Jennifer A. Hobin, Cynthia N. Furhmann, Bill Lindstaedt, and Philip S. Clifford, 7 September 2012 New Web-based career-planning tool myIDP was created to help graduate students and postdocs in the sciences define and pursue their career goals.

Perspective: On Motivation by Jim Austin, 24 August 2012 The best way to motivate scientists is to engage them, encourage them, and stay out of their way.

Science Training and Mental Health by Micella Phoenix DeWhyse, 10 August 2012 Many science trainees who suffer and fail could excel if they just had a little more support to help them build resilience in the face of failure.

A Career on the Fence by Elisabeth Pain, 27 July 2012 According to electrical and computer engineering researcher and former fencing athlete Mark J. T. Smith, you’re not going to survive an academic career if you don’t balance family life and your research life.

Career Q&A: Lia Merminga by Marissa Fessenden, 1 June 2012 Not all ideas are good, but don’t stop at the first “no.” Determination and perseverance are very important in science.

Career Q&A: From Science to Fiction by Elisabeth Pain, 20 April 2012 Pharmacologist Amàlia Lafuente dedicated her novel about a female postdoc who overcomes a situation of sexual harassment to young scientists and their pure, idealistic view of science.

On Shaky Ground by Yassar Alamri, 30 September 2011 Researchers must learn to have uncertainty as their prime motivation.

A Father-and-Son Journey Into Synthetic Biology by Elisabeth Pain, 2 September 2011 Justin Siegel inherited a fascination for enzymes and a motivation to get young people interested in science as early as possible from his scientist father, Brock.

Tooling Up: Find an Outlet for Stress or Move On by David Jensen, 17 June 2011 Workplace stress is intensifying in the sciences. Here are some ways of dealing with it.

Mind Matters: Resilience by Irene S. Levine, 10 June 2011 A growing body of research and experience suggests that individuals possessing personal resilience are more likely to overcome career roadblocks.

Reducing the Impact of Negative Stereotypes on the Careers of Minority and Women Scientists by Daisy Grewal, 26 November 2010 Feelings of belonging directly influence people’s motivation and satisfaction with a scientific career and can predict whether they stay at an institution.

Mind Matters: Anxiety in the Workplace by Irene S. Levine, 10 September 2010 Everyone feels a bit nervous from time to time, and a little anxiety can improve performance—but excessive anxiety can be disabling and derail careers.

In Person: How Our Adventures Led to Careers in Science by Kolby and Angela Jardine, 3 September 2010 The couple’s inspiration for their research on how water, soil, vegetation, and the atmosphere interact with one another comes from their “science adventures” around the world.

Scientist’s Work Bridges Math and Cancer by Sarah A. Webb, 13 August 2010 Carrying out her work in a medical center and next to a hospital provides mathematician Franziska Michor an added motivation for her work.

Re-Visioning a Career by Robin Mejia, 23 July 2010 Computer scientist David Price found inspiration in the challenges posed by his disability.

Audacity, Part 5: Rejection and Ridicule by Anne Sasso, 11 June 2010 If your scientific project is audacious—and you’re right—you will need a thick skin and persistence to push it through the criticism.

Translating the Puzzle of Autism into Treatment by Sarah A. Webb, 23 April 2010 Researchers working on autism are driven not only by their intellectual curiosity but also by their desire to help patients and their families.

Flying High by Susan Gaidos, 2 October 2009 Despite a remarkable talent, Cecilia Aragon lacked the confidence she needed to be a scientist. And then she learned to fly.

Winning Strategies: Advice from PECASE Winners by Susan Gaidos, 28 August 2009 A large part of making it in research is not to get discouraged when things don’t work and just keep trying.

In Person: The Pursuit of Happiness by Huda Akil, 14 August 2009 Playing with her 2-year-old granddaughter allows neuroscientist Huda Akil to lift her spirits while inspiring her research.

Career Renewal for Established Scientists by Elisabeth Pain, 26 June 2009 Some senior faculty members continue to be productive, whereas others become deadwood or just meander along. What factors make the difference?

Rejuvenation Tips for Tenured Faculty by Elisabeth Pain, 26 June 2009 Staying engaged, motivated, and productive for the decades that stretch beyond tenure can be challenging, but there are ways to keep going.

Piled Higher and Deeper: The Everyday Life of a Grad Student by Sara Coelho, 27 March 2009 Reading Jorge Cham’s comic strip can be a welcome relief to the everyday frustrations of life in the lab.

Testimony of a Young Christian Scientist by Elisabeth Pain, 20 February 2009 Chemist Imre Miklós Szilágyi’s religious faith has given him the ambition to achieve more and more in all fields of life, including science.

Creative Ways to Energize Your Career by Carol Milano, 12 September 2008 Science faculty can transform their training and expertise into stimulating new professional activities well beyond their job descriptions. (Special feature published by the AAAS/Science Custom Publishing Office)

If at First You Don’t Succeed, Cool Off, Revise, and Submit Again by Lucas Laursen, 15 August 2008 Getting a paper rejected always stings, but it can also increase your motivation to improve your papers and get it right.

Mind Matters: Get Moving by Irene S. Levine, 25 July 2008 Scientists who build regular exercise into their daily routines report that it gives them more energy, boosts their productivity at work, clears their minds, and helps them cope better.

Courting Controversy: Out of the Mainstream by John Bohannon, 11 July 2008 Part of the motivation for sociologist William Sims Bainbridge to study religious groups seems to be the taboo of it.

Student-Veterans Come Marching Home: Their Return to Studies by Alan Kotok, 6 June 2008 Military service has imbued many veterans with qualities of focus, discipline, motivation, confidence, and maturity often lacking in students with less worldly experience.

Home Stretch to Graduation by Elisabeth Pain, 18 April 2008 Getting to the point where your dissertation is ready for submission and, importantly, coming away with a sense of fulfillment and some enthusiasm for the next challenge means dealing with lots of annoying distractions and carefully traversing some uneven emotional ground.

No, You’re Not an Impostor by Lucas Laursen, 15 February 2008 Plenty of people get their motivation by comparing themselves to peers and trying to keep up or get ahead, but this can be counter-productive for people with the “impostor” phenomenon.

Mastering Your Ph.D.: Celebrate Your Success by Bart Noordam and Patricia Gosling, 25 May 2007 Scientific research can be a long and tedious process, which makes it all the more important to pat yourself on the back every now and then.

Mastering Your PhD: Dealing with Setbacks by Patricia Gosling and Bart Noordam, 16 February 2007 Your best weapon against setbacks is to engage in focused, methodical, and patient effort.

Mastering Your Ph.D.: Setting Goals for Success by Patricia Gosling and Bart Noordam, 15 December 2006 Whatever your working style, planning and time management have a definite place in your daily life in the lab.

Scientific Success: What’s Love Got to Do With It? by Irene S. Levine, 26 May 2006 Several forum contributors saw marriage as a source of emotional and financial stability rather than a dangerous undertow.

The Secret Passions of Scientists by Irene S. Levine, 31 March 2006 Engaging with passions outside the lab can help you be more productive and creative at work.

Same School, Different Degree, All Part of the Plan by Clinton Parks, 17 February 2006 Although she did her share of praying and crying, seeing other people of color with graduate degrees gave Cherie Butts hope that she could finish with an excellent academic record.

Un Enfant des Etoiles by Elisabeth Pain, 20 January 2006 Astronomer Eric Hébrard’s Ph.D. project, which was related to the Huygens mission to Titan, enabled him to see a place that people knew very little about.

When You Run Into Brick Walls: Coping With Frustrations In The Lab by Irene S. Levine, 2 December 2005 Career success is often determined by how well we cope with the curveballs that are thrown to us.

Developing Resilience by David Jensen, 18 November 2005 Often as not, resilience ends up being the difference between success and failure.

The End of the Road by Phil Dee, 28 October 2005 Our awareness of our primary driving force is of greatest help when we need to make tough career decisions.

Mind Matters: On Balance by Irene S. Levine, 22 July 2005 You may be able to do it for days, weeks, or even months, but over the long haul, no one can continually juggle an unrealistic set of roles and responsibilities.

Peer Mentors and Networks: Powerful Tools for Promoting Transfer Student Success by Michael Mimnaugh, 1 April 2005 The former Chicago Linkage for Minorities in Biomedical Sciences (CLIMB) at Chicago State University demonstrated that bringing transfer students together with successful students from similar circumstances gave them the motivation, help, and inspiration they needed.

Straight Out of Science Fiction by Charles Choi, 11 March 2005 In her days as a physics major, Deborah Jackson drew much of her inspiration from the rich environment of role models she found at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Navigating the First Year of Graduate School by Takita Sumter, 18 February 2005 Takita Sumter was able to succeed in her transition into graduate school and beyond thanks to good mentors, excellent time management skills, perseverance, and confidence.

From Poverty to Ph.D.: A Scientist Finds Himself in Physics by Victor Chase, 7 January 2005 Darnell Diggs found inspiration to overcome the hurdles he encountered as a physics major in a book entitled Gifted Hands by neurosurgeon Benjamin “Ben” Carson.

Educated Woman: The Grad School Adventures of Micella Phoenix DeWhyse – Chapter 33 – The Heart of Grad School Darkness by Micella Phoenix DeWhyse, 26 November 2004 When struggling with failed experiments, we need a point of reference outside the lab that will let us bemoan our current reality and then challenge us to put it all into perspective.

Facing Life’s Challenges as a Foreign Scientist by Xinyan Huang, 1 October 2004 Xinyan Huang was able to succeed in the United States with hard work, perseverance, and the help of a supportive husband.

Educated Woman: The Grad School Adventures of Micella Phoenix DeWhyse—Chapter 31: Year 4 Commences by Micella Phoenix DeWhyse, 24 September 2004 When you hit the fourth year of your Ph.D., all you really want to do is propose, finish, defend, and leave.

A Toolkit of Transferable Skills for Postdocs by Phil Dee, 17 September 2004 One silver lining to adversity in the lab is all the valuable transferable skills that young scientists develop as they overcome obstacles.

Peer Mentoring, Part 2: Practical Methods to Lift As We Climb by Micella Phoenix DeWhyse, 10 September 2004 Having the extra visual of celebrating your successes with other students can increase your motivation to reach your set milestones.

Bouncing Back by Edna Francisco, 10 June 2004 What happens to scientists when they leave their jobs to tend a major illness or injury? Three women tell the story of how they dealt with their ordeals and got their careers back on track.

Nothing Is Impossible to a Willing Heart by Takita Felder, 21 May 2004 While we would all like instant gratification for our hard work and effort, success in science, and in any area, takes time and patience.

Space Time by Robin Arnette, 19 December 2003 One key to making great contributions is to set a vision of where you want to go and be ready to fall down 10 times and stand up 11.

Facing Adversity: A Positive Spin by Sonya Clemmons, 28 November 2003 Dr. Clemmons tells a frustrated scientist and artist how to build resilience.

Educated Woman: The Grad School Adventures of Micella Phoenix DeWhyse—Chapter 22: Micella the Mentor by Micella Phoenix DeWhyse, 28 November 2003 Now in her 3rd year of graduate school, Micella Phoenix DeWhyse has come to feel like one of her reasons to be here is to be a mentor.

Balancing Career, Motherhood, and Widowhood (and Remarriage!) by Ramit Mehr, 3 October 2003 Ramit Mehr kept her professional life on track after a terrible car accident thanks to her perseverance and support from family and friends. 

A Stimulating Environment by Sylvie Coupaud, 26 September 2003 For biomedical engineer Sylvie Coupaud, working with people who do not let their extensive disabilities get them down gives her an extra boost to keep going.

Renaissance Woman by Ingfei Chen, 20 June 2003 Nadia Rosenthal, who landed in a tough, sexist, and competitive environment for her Ph.D., found that this early experience has helped her tough it out throughout her career.

Road-Trip Rejuvenation by Kathie Sindt, 4 April 2003 Identifying your strengths and weaknesses will help you have a better time—and more success—on whatever professional road you’re on.

Head Rush by Ingfei Chen, 13 November 2002 For biologist William Sonntag, attacking the dullness of everyday routine—and just plain having fun—is one key to happiness in life as well as science.

The Road to Discovery—Inspirations and Insights by Jennie Wong, 8 November 2002 According to Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner, it is simply the science itself—solving problems and inventing new things—that keeps him going.

Educated Woman: The Grad School Adventures of Micella Phoenix DeWhyse—Chapter 10: I’m a Second Year Already? by Micella Phoenix DeWhyse, 25 October 2002 Micella Phoenix DeWhyse is learning to live gracefully with the frustrations of research: being grateful when something works and not taking it personally when it doesn’t.

Recognition and Encouragement by Kirstie Urquhart, 12 July 2002 Perseverance in trying to contribute to the field and doing good work is the key to a successful scientific career.

Transitioning From Undergraduate to Graduate School by Anjelica Gonzalez, 10 May 2002 Learning to deal with failure is the definitive characteristic of a successful graduate student.

MSN Hero-Juan E. Gilbert, Ph.D. by Juan Gilbert, 15 February 2002 The early career story of Juan E. Gilbert—who today holds the Presidential Endowed Chair in Computing and is the chair of the Human-Centered Computing Division at Clemson University—is an illustration of mentoring and motivation.

Overwork: Does it have To Be a Life of Quiet Desperation? by Adrienne Kitts, 19 October 2001 Is it worth it to sacrifice job security for family or health? Ask the hard questions and make the difficult decisions.

Shotgun Thesis Composition by Phil Dee, 21 September 2001 One approach to keep up your inspiration and interest during thesis composition is to avoid spending ages stuck on one section.

Underrepresented Minorities in Science: A Personal Viewpoint by Lee Wilson, 16 March 2001 Physical chemist Lee Wilson learned that through hard work and perseverance it is possible to achieve one’s goals.

Thesis Writing, Guru-Style by Andrea Lord, 2 March 2001 Do you have an entire Ph.D. thesis to write up? Break it into small chunks, set deadlines, and find your real motivation to finish it off.

Underrepresented Minorities in Science: A Statistical Anomaly: The Story of an African-American Woman Battling the Odds to Become a Mathematician by Tasha Inniss, 2 March 2001 The encouragement and nurturing Tasha Inniss received from her family and teachers inspired her and contributed to her overall success.

Underrepresented Minorities in Science: Double Jeopardy by Shree Whitaker, 2 March 2001 In preparation for her written exams, black female mathematician Shree Whitaker mixed the destructive remarks of one of her professors with her pain-stricken pride, creating the self-motivation she needed to reach her goal.

Positive Focusing: Become a Goal-Driven Career Strategist by David Jensen, 17 November 2000 Motivation is something that you have to find inside you, a force that you can tap to help you reach your own personal goals, one at a time.

Hang in There, Baby: Surviving Graduate School by Louie Lamorte, 6 October 2000 Remember to remain self-confident and perseverant at times when nothing seems to be working, as things will eventually turn around (believe it or not).

The Single-Minded Pursuit by David Jensen, 13 August 1999 A fair number of people achieve their career goals faster and without the agony that many others experience when looking for the same opportunities. These unique people have learned to focus by making a single-minded pursuit out of their mission.

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