On Becoming a Scientist

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Science  13 Nov 2009:
Vol. 326, Issue 5955, pp. 916
DOI: 10.1126/science.1184202

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One normally becomes a scientist through a series of apprenticeships, pursuing research in laboratories directed by established scientists. My own scientific mentors were Jacques Fresco and Paul Doty at Harvard, where I learned not only technical skills but also how to think and function as a scientist. Both from them, and by making my own mistakes,* I learned how to identify important problems, how to think critically, and how to design effective research strategies. Because so much of one's scientific future is shaped by early experiences, it is critical that beginning scientists select their mentors wisely. Unfortunately, what constitutes a “good” choice is not always obvious. Here I offer some personal advice to help young scientists make these tough decisions wisely.