NextGenVoices Results

NextGen VOICES: Results

We asked young scientists to answer these questions:
What is your definition of a successful scientist? How has this definition changed between your mentor's generation and your own?

In the 6 April 2012 issue, we ran excerpts from 21 of the many insightful responses we received. Below, you will find the full versions of those 21 essays (in the order they were printed) as well as the top 50 (in alphabetical order) of the other submissions we received.

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Essays in print

For me a successful scientist gives great theoretical contributions to his area of research. In the 40 years between my mentor and me, it seems that the concept of a successful scientist has drifted from the depth of his knowledge to the amounts and impact of his publications. Publishing recipes get to dominate over their innovation and quality.
Cristiano Sato
Departamento de Ecologia, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro, 20550–013, Brazil.
E-mail: yujisato{at}

Twenty years ago, a successful scientist would have been defined as: "One who maintains a research laboratory with a successful program of research as exemplified by (i) a full portfolio of grants (R01 series or the equivalent), (ii) a full portfolio of high-impact research publications, and (iii) a fully staffed research laboratory with career scientists ranging from undergraduate technicians to senior research staff. Now, with increasing competition for limited research funds, and the rising bar of status quo (as evidenced by the increasing number of figures required to publish a paper in a competitive journal), the successful scientist of 2012 must be creative, flexible, and able to think on his/her feet. Today's successful scientist must be able to innovate—thinking of novel scientific concepts that are not only answer hypotheses, but also captivate investors who may be willing to fund research. They must be able to collaborate, not just within their university, but also internationally and across university-industry partnerships. They must be flexible, and willing to utilize their science in a multitude of application areas, allowing for multiple funding opportunities. They must be masters of the "elevator pitch," relaying the relevance and urgency of their research area to everyone, especially the trainees who will be the scientists of the future. All of this, in addition to maintaining a full grant portfolio, publishing in high-impact journals, and staffing a full laboratory in a rocky financial climate. Innovator, marketing expert, financial guru, teacher/mentor—today's scientist is a renaissance wo/man, indeed.
Dorothy M. Jones-Davis
Department of Neurology, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143–0114, USA.
E-mail: dorothy.jones-davis{at}

In essence, a successful scientist is one who is influential in academia or society-at-large. However, while influence in academia has come to be the dominant criterion of success, the next generation of scientists will rather be evaluated in terms of their influence in society. Such a change in how success is defined will not come without deep consequences on the practice of doing science. In broad terms, influence in academia corresponds to the ability to shape the research direction of a discipline or scientific community. It is discipline-driven, requires specialization, and is measured through the number of the scientist's publications and citations. Influence in society-at-large, instead, corresponds to meeting one's time's great societal challenges. It is problem-driven, requires interdisciplinarity and engagement with nonacademic actors, calls for a responsible social role of science, and is measured through the scientist's impact in society. In a growingly globalized and competitive scientific community, funding bodies will increasingly allocate their limited resources based on new criteria that weight practical impact in society most. The existence of daunting of societal challenges (e.g., climate change) will reinforce this pressure on scientists to deliver research with more direct applications to society. New measures of influence will be developed and refined, and this will signal the generational change in defining not only what a successful scientist is, but also what research a successful scientist does, and how she/he does it.
Giuseppe Feola
Department of Geography and Environmental Science, School of Human and Environmental Sciences, University of Reading, Whiteknights, RG6 5AB, UK.
E-mail: g.feola{at}

Successful scientists excel on multiple levels, from conducting research, teaching, publishing, and providing service to the research community to mentoring students and grant writing. Today there are increasingly more alternatives to a strictly academic career path. For example, researchers also work as entrepreneurs in start-up companies, act as consultants, or write as science journalists. Kuhn observed that scientists can succeed in advancing an existing paradigm or in generating new paradigms. Additionally, we need scientists who can communicate scientific ideas effectively. Different from scientists in the past, contemporary researchers are urged to leave the ivory tower and maintain a more public face, for example through blogs, videos, wiki entries, TED-style talks, etc. Making scientific work accessible to a wider audience aims to improve public understanding of science and (hopefully) fosters continuing public support of science research.
Beat A. Schwendimann
Centre for Research on computer-Supported Learning and Cognition, Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2050, Australia.
E-mail: beat.schwendimann{at}

In my view, a successful scientist today is one who can bring people together into large-scale projects that require several different areas of expertise. Such endeavors require both scientific and translational vision. Also, it is crucial to have the ability to speak the language of several disciplines at once. Most important, a successful scientist must be able to inspire people with different training and skills to come together and work toward their overall vision. A scientist who is able to work at the interface of disciplines is able to create new research fields and thus carve out a unique niche for success. Many recent advances in biomedical research, particle physics, energy, climate, and information sciences have redefined what it takes to be a successful scientist. In earlier generations, science was more of a small group endeavor. The key requirement for scientific success was in-depth expertise in one narrow field and the ability to publish in that field. Today's scientific environment demands a combination of in-depth knowledge of one field as well as broad exposure to applications that push the fundamental research forward in new directions. In addition to the traditional roles of teaching, publishing, and grant writing, today's scientist needs to be able to mobilize resources, manage large groups of people and large data sets, and acquire a range of heterogeneous expertise to succeed.
Pavitra Krishnaswamy
Medical Engineering and Medical Physics, Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology, Cambridge, MA 02142, USA.
E-mail: pavitrak{at}

A successful scientist is anyone that makes a meaningful, searchable, and unforgotten contribution to the body of human knowledge. Their findings need not be extraordinary, popular, or even widely recognized, but that knowledge must be shared and permanently recorded so others may learn and build on it.
Neilson Nguyen
Department of Chemical and Physical Sciences, University of Toronto, Mississauga, Mississauga, Ontario, L5L 1C6, Canada.
E-mail: neilson.nguyen{at}

One characteristic that stands above any other attribute of a successful scientist is to remain curious, similar to a young child. Scientists question the surrounding world, and this inquisitiveness is what contributes to a "successful scientist." Curiosity is what drives any scientist to pursue a line of research tenaciously for long periods of time; it is this feature that inspired some of history's greatest and most accomplished scientists from Archimedes to Einstein. A successful scientist must demonstrate patience about a problem and should have multiple perspectives, as today's challenges demand knowledge in numerous branches of learning. As Steve Jobs suggested, "Stay hungry, stay foolish." Staying hungry means to always be curious to learn and achieve more, and staying foolish means to keep an open mind, defy rules, and dare to take unconventional paths. Great scientists manage to stay and think in a "young" manner, even when it is expected of them to conform to conventional thinking. As a high school student passionate about science and math, I will strive to grow up and be a curious child again because I hope to treasure this important attribute.
Meera T. Ramakrishnan
The Winsor School, Boston, MA 02215, USA.
E-mail: mtap96{at}

According to Webster's New College Dictionary, success is defined as the gaining of something desired, planned, or attempted. In other words, a successful scientist is one that can actually get an experiment to work! If you'd asked me 10 years ago, as I chose that fork in my life path that ultimately led toward a career in science, I would have defined success differently. I bravely majored in chemistry at a top notch university fully expecting to cure cancer single-handedly. Naivety personified. My expectations have been tempered somewhat with experience. As a fellow graduate student once wisely advised me, "If it were easy, it would have been done already." As the breadth of knowledge continues to expand at an astronomical pace and the tools of our trade become more powerful, yet more specialized and complex, the environment in which young scientists seek success has correspondingly changed. Even navigating the sea of publications is a daunting task. Breakthrough discoveries are hard to come by today, and we must recognize small discoveries as victories. We face challenges characterized by the juggernauts preceding us and the multitude of fellow scientists we currently call contemporaries. But the nature of the scientist remains the same. We strive to have an impact on our field. We define success as making a meaningful contribution to the fabric of knowledge. In that sense, the definition has not changed since Lieuwenhauk's first described his observation of animalcules, much less my adviser's or my rise into our still early professional career.
Susan Deupree
Tandem Labs–RTP, Durham, NC 27703, USA.
E-mail: suzdupe{at}

It did not change. It still rules as my mentor says: The successful scientist is the one whose name in books moved from "name index" to "subject index."
Matúš Soták
Institute of Physiology, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, 14220, Prague 4, Czech Republic.
E-mail: matus.sotak{at}

The core pursuit of a scientist is to extract basic, underlying principles from the data available to her. A successful scientist is therefore someone who successfully takes the available information and generates new insights, or knowledge, from it. In this sense, the definition of a successful scientist has not changed much over the generations. What has changed, however, is the amount of data available. Where previous generations of scientists spent a lot of time generating and collecting data, recent technological developments have substantially increased both the amount of data that can be collected, and the speed at which it can be acquired. Today, so much information has been generated that the success of a scientist depends much more than in previous generations on how well she is able to extrapolate profound insights from this vast information base; in other words, how well she is able to identify the relevant data, and exclude the irrelevant. Furthermore, the amount of relevant data is no longer limited to the research area to which the scientist belongs. Our generation of successful scientists will need to look across disciplines to fields that may or may not seem immediately related. Our own neuroscience centre in Norway consists of scientists and students with backgrounds in physics, art, aerospace engineering, and anthropology. The future of a successful scientist therefore depends on how well she is able to look both deep and wide and, most important, on knowing what to look for.
Annelene Gulden Dahl
Kavli Institute For Systems Neuroscience, Centre for the Biology of Memory, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, 7030, Norway.
E-mail: anneled{at}

You'll find today's scientists all over the world: in the lab, in the Amazon, on Capitol Hill, or in a Sonoma vineyard. Considering this diversity, it's difficult to come up with a universal metric for success—number of publications doesn't cut it anymore. Success could be developing a new tuberculosis treatment, teaching chemistry to underprivileged high school students, tracking down illegal drug traffickers, or inventing a new flavor of ice cream. Like other people, scientists succeed by providing a tangible benefit to society, be it through public or private means. Organizations traditionally invest in scientists because we are great at identifying complex problems and developing detailed solutions to them. Successful scientists also apply these problem-solving skills at a big-picture level when making life and career choices. They identify societal problems which they are passionate about and work towards solving them. The most successful ones always remember that science is not just for scientists.
Gautham Venugopalan
Joint Graduate Group in Bioengineering, University of California Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94703, USA and University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, 94143, USA.
E-mail: gautham{at}

Twenty years and loads of data. That's the rough gap between me and my mentor's generation in active participation in the cultivation of science. Science hasn't changed at all in these years. A nucleic acid still holds the same amount of base pairs but our ability to fathom these base pairings has reached as high as whole organism dimensions. What has changed is our ability to gather information, store them and process at a later moment of necessity. Science has been more of data, time, and resource management. A scientist in today's context is an effective manager, a shrewd technocrat, and a learned businessman who knows not only how to generate but also how to sell his science. Gigabytes of information are churned out by labs day in and day out. A successful scientist should have the ability to make sense of all such data including even a failed experiment and include that bit of (mis)finding in the next grant application. Networking and being oblivious to one's surroundings, hence, highlights today's scientific methodology. Many would argue the advancement of technology has paved way for more and more hypotheses coming our way. But unlike earlier times these hypotheses are more cornered to disprove an earlier accepted concept; breaking down a proven rationale and reshaping the molecules to structure them in terms that validate an isolated finding. The better a scientist joins the dots, the more effective science evolves. So there it boils down to same obvious truth. Data management. Period.
Kingshuk Poddar
National University of Singapore Graduate School for Integrative Science and Engineering, Centre for Life Sciences, 117456, Singapore and Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology, Agency for Science, Technology, and Research (A*STAR), Proteos, 138673, Singapore.
E-mail: kingshukpoddar{at}

Our mentors constantly reminded us that failure wasn't an option, hard work was the key to success, and being successful meant starting with securing a tenured track position and steadily advancing within our narrow and well defined communities. Success was a long list of awards, publications, and achievements at the end of our professional careers. In the past, successful scientists led the way by creating knowledge products in the smallest publishable unit, scavenged bulletin boards in search of grant proposals, and scooped colleagues in non-competitive interagency agreements. They hoarded data, assumed professional dominance, and enjoyed a relatively homogenous work culture. The next generation will teach us that failure is a learning experience, that work is play and both can be a game, and that success is measured in the many facets of the work-life balance for each person separately. In the future, I suspect successful scientists will speak multiple human and machine languages, master the multi-audience elevator pitch, collaborate virtually with humans and machines, jump among several disciplines, and constantly evolve both personally and professionally. Simply put, successful scientists will be successful through connectivity, communication, and creativity.
Jeff Hamann
Forest Informatics, Inc., Post Office Box 1421, Covallis OR 97339, USA.
E-mail: jeff.hamann{at}

The one able to resist the temptation of lying about any aspect of his/her research and still publish unexpected good results, at least from time to time. The one who does not care about political trends (a type of research bias) and maintains the spirit of discovering new frontiers. I was never aware about this definition in the past. I thought Science was simply like this. Perhaps definitions are needed to make things happen...
Ricardo S Scott
Developmental Neurobiology, Instituto de Neurociencias de Alicante, Alicante, 3550, Spain.
E-mail: sscott{at}

What defines a successful scientist probably varies between countries: In the U.S., securing an NIH grant might be THE sign of success whereas in China or India, it's the sheer number of publications that matter, regardless of impact factor. I received my scientific training at top-quality research institutions mainly in Britain and Germany—two countries who have provided a good breeding ground for acclaimed "successful scientists" in both academia and industry for centuries. My ideal scientist is a clever brain with a human touch, who asks intelligent questions and addresses them with creative experimental design, is able to inspire through effective communication, yet always cares for scientific integrity. Somebody with these assets will always attract sufficient funding, excellent staff and fruitful collaborations, and will ultimately produce what in my opinion really defines a successful scientist: a large number of successful "scientific offspring"—mentees who are not only inspired but also trained to continue their own independent scientific career. Unfortunately, this factor is no longer given enough weight in nowadays fierce competition for grants and permanent jobs at the level of the senior scientist. Inspiration is as important to me as it was for my mentors' generation but today more and more holders of a PhD end up overqualified doing non-research jobs because success is so often rated exclusively based on publications. Fifty years ago, a successful scientist was still predominantly a discoverer, adventurer, teacher or pioneer. Today the description more often resembles that of a successful businessman.
Michele Weber
Cell Biology and Immunology Group, Institute of Science and Technology Austria, Klosterneuburg, A-3400, Austria.
E-mail: micheleweber80{at}

I believe we are currently witnessing the second transition in what makes a successful scientist. My mentor's mentor, not to mention previous generations, was able to define success in terms of the quality and quantity of research output. While this remains undeniably important to any meaningful definition of success, by my mentor's generation (if not earlier), this had become insufficient. By then, the ability to communicate one's findings fluently and persuasively had become a key facet of success. A scientist who worked hard to make her or his name synonymous with a particular technique, or research area, effectively guaranteed that those seeking assistance in that field would initially turn to that scientist. Such collaborations could catalyze the transition from a competent to a world-class researcher. For me, I believe that a truly successful scientist today is not only productive in terms of research output and in communicating with other scientists, but in communicating the importance of their work to a wider lay audience. An increasingly Web-savvy general public is trawling the internet for answers, and the successful scientist needs to ensure that their research is presented both accurately, and in a manner comprehensible to non-scientists. By engaging in schemes that seek to make science accessible to students, such as the Wellcome Trust's "I'm a Scientist, Get me Out of Here!" and PLoSable Biology, the successful scientist can cement their reputation, as well as help restore the name of science to an increasingly disillusioned general public.
Duncan Wright
Institute of Cellular and Organismic Biology, Academia Sinica, Nankang, Taipei, 115, Taiwan.
E-mail: dwright{at}

A successful scientist is an oxymoron. Even the most highly regarded researchers have to concede that their paths to the top were paved with the smoldering remains of failed experiments, rejected papers and fortunate serendipity. What sets such people apart, however, is natural curiosity, idealistic passion and the boundless ingenuity which fuels their drive towards trial-and-error and thickens their skins to the sharp barbs of failure. Humility is the noblest trait of good scientists and the courage to admit ignorance is their most valuable tool. Does this romanticized narrative hold true in modern times? Probably not. The commercialization of science and the commoditization of knowledge mean that most scientists do not have the luxury of failure to guide their research. For them, failure does not mean feedback, failure means cutbacks. So they are forced, instead, to sell their wares to grant agencies with self-assurance and academic arrogance. Nevertheless, the supply of young scientists is clearly outstripping its demand, so there must still be motivation to enter the scientific world. Maybe the idealized stories of Darwin, Fleming, and Feynman are enough to extinguish our cynicism and inspire us to continue our quest for knowledge? So, to me, a successful scientist is anyone who stirs up in others the curiosity to explore the splendor of the natural world.
Falko T. Buschke
Laboratory of Aquatic Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, 3000, Leuven, Belgium.
E-mail: falko.buschke{at}

The definition of a scientist is described in the Merriam-Webster's dictionary as a person having expert knowledge of one or more sciences, especially a natural or physical science. But a successful scientist is far beyond this definition. In my opinion, a successful scientist should have some traits that will never be changed by time or generation. Some of them are realization of the importance of science for mankind and society development, respect to truth, pursuit of innovation, and contribution made to human beings or the whole world. But with changes in contemporary science, I think it requires more to be qualified as a successful scientist. First, a successful scientist should be able to find a valuable and specific target among the ocean of science or even in his/her own field because there have been and will be more and more new technologies and interdisciplinary fields as well as explosively increased quantity of knowledge. Second, government-sponsored and -guided researches have become the majority of all scientific researches. Hence, scientists bear a responsibility to foster the constructive use of science to increase human knowledge for a better life instead of promoting the destructive use by nations to foster their competitive interests as world powers. Third, a successful scientist should realize more and more about the importance of international cooperation because globalization provides both opportunity and necessity of international cooperation of scientific research. As far as I know, these opinions are representative among young Chinese scientists around me.
Wei Wang
Department of Urology, School of Medicine, Fifth People's Hospital of Fudan University, Shanghai, 200240, China.
E-mail: ericwang79{at}

As striking as it may seem, my definition of a successful scientist is the one who had "luck" at any part of his scientific career then built on it and worked hard to complete the story. So, it's not just luck but it is a very important factor for success. Most of the scientists work on data generation rather than developing new hypotheses or inventing new tools or equipment. How many times we find repeated papers with the same techniques and the same figures but addressing different proteins or genes?? For a WOW discovery, it totally relies on how much lucky you are. For example, if someone investigates the effect of knocking out a gene and found minimum or non-significant effect, does this make him a bad scientist?? Of course not. However, he could lose the ability to get new grants and he could end up losing his lab!! On the other side, if this knockout resulted in a very significant or interesting phenotype, it would be easy to get more funds, complete the work, publish in top notch journals and "SEEM" as a wonderful scientists, although, this could be copying of other experiments published elsewhere but on his/her golden discovered gene or protein. I believe science before was more of hypothesis generation and creative experimental designs; now, I see it as mostly about reproducing data to be in the safe side and not jeopardizing our career. I just want to elaborate that my opinion applies to the majority and not all of the cases!
Sara Serag
Biotechnology Program, American University in Cairo, New Cairo, 11835, Egypt.
E-mail: drsaraserag{at}

Many may consider a successful scientist to be one who makes groundbreaking discoveries or, perhaps, one who makes a large salary. For me, however, a successful scientist is one who inspires a younger generation to follow in his or her footsteps. Science has made enormous leaps and bounds, but it still has far to go. We cannot make further strides without another generation of thinkers and innovators, and without the inspiration from the current generation of scientists, we may not have future progress. True success cannot be quantified, and no matter the innovations made, I believe that the real measure of a scientist's greatness is the inspiration he or she passes on to others. Moreover, I believe that, despite a growing societal fixation on money and fame, this definition of success has been true for many generations. Fostering an environment of learning and excitement in science is, perhaps, the most important endeavor one can embark on. We cannot expect to make progress in science without an inspired group of young researchers at the bench, and we cannot expect to have such a group without inspiring mentors to lead the way. It is for this reason that I implore all those mentors who have already risen to great heights to lend a hand to those of us who are still on our way. As an aspiring young scientist, I can tell you that there is no better muse than a committed mentor.
Sara Chodosh
College of Arts and Sciences, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
E-mail: chosa{at}

Changes in the definition of "successful scientist" reflect changes in the definition of "scientist." My mentor and his generation believe that a scientist is someone who does academic research. I believe that a scientist is someone who has been trained to think like a scientist. Because of this broadening of the definition of scientist, there must be a broadening of the definition of success. Only in academic research are the metrics for success numbers of papers published, talks given, or grants received. I believe that success in any career path should be quantified by subjective metrics such as "Am I happy? Am I contributing? Do I believe in what I am doing?" Therefore, a successful scientist is anyone who has found a satisfying career path in which they use scientific skills such as organization, problem solving, and critical thinking.
Erin Currie
Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, 94158, USA.
E-mail: erin.currie{at}

Top 50 online essays

I was fortunate to have a successful mentor. He has not been a professor at a world's top university, he has not gotten a publication in Science or Nature, he has not directly contributed to human well-being by his discoveries. However, still very young and in spite of difficult circumstances, he was able to establish his own laboratory at our country's best university and become a professor soon afterward. He has a fruitful career of a rigorous scientist along with a happy family life. He is an adored teacher and supervisor, having managed to recruit and inspire some of the most talented students. Success is a process, as well as a state of mind. A process of achieving goals that come up consecutively, depending on the career stage, previous achievements, social obligations, and, last but not least, one's personal life. A state of mind encompassing feelings of contentment and fulfillment, since success without happiness might as well be failure. I prefer The Minimalists' view, where success comprises happiness with what one's doing, constant individual improvement, and a meaningful contribution to other people. What makes us happy, how we improve, and how we contribute to others, varies from one person to another and, importantly, evolves over time. Moreover, contemporaneous social demands and requirements imposed on each particular generation by recent advances in every field of work also change, constantly shifting the goals forwards. Yet, this "mosaic" definition of success, common to science and any other field, remains unaltered.
Lenka Abelovska
Bratislava, 83101, Slovakia.
E-mail: lenkaabelovska{at}

A successful scientist is not someone who is often also described as a successful human being, or a well-rounded person with broad interests. At least, that has been the popular perception of the scientist, slaving in the ivory tower oblivious to the world at large. The pinnacle of scientific achievement, the Nobel Prize, rewards this kind of singular focus, and indeed the purpose of the scientific endeavor is to achieve expertise in explaining a niche of the physical world. But as research output becomes ever more available to the public-at-large, the context for judging what makes a successful scientist has also shifted. The functions of scientist as public servant, as interdisciplinary problem solver, as advocate, and as innovator outside the lab are emerging and growing in importance. If a scientist gives a TED talk, posts experiments on YouTube, becomes an open access publisher, or testifies in Congress, they are doing something that is arguably as important as pushing the boundaries of knowledge: They are breaking down the hallowed halls of science. This iconoclasm is bringing eyeballs, clicks, and ultimately dollars to science. As older faculty gripe about how they used to sleep in lab, some younger professors are venturing outside the lab—traveling, reading (fiction!), and even encouraging their students to lead balanced lives. This latter kind of scientist—someone who is passionate about and dedicated to their job, but realizes there is a world beyond the bench—surely resonates better with a public who, in the end, funds and hopes to benefit from the blind leaps into the great unknown that we call science.
Amanda Alvarez
Vision Science, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA.
E-mail: alvareza{at}

Nowadays success in science is measured by the number of publications in the high-impact journals, but a successful scientist is not necessarily the most cited one. The man or woman making even one contribution to the understanding of a disease mechanism, inventing a new methodological approach, or designing a paradigm breaking solution to a scientific problem can be considered as a successful scientist. Keeping in mind that none of us is as smart as all of us, a successful scientist has the gift for gathering people together in the quest for new knowledge. Open-minded and capable of putting aside his ego, a successful scientist does not allow the success to take over his person. A sustainable success in science is built after many failures and this kind of success is the most appreciated one. What remains unchanged across the generational gap in the definition of a "successful scientist" is the support of the scientific community and recognition in one's research field. In that way the Nobel Prize is unequivocally the coronation of a successful scientist. For our mentor's generation publishing regularly in high-impact journals is associated with success because it ensures credits for research. After all, success in science is also a matter of luck, but luck comes to the ready minds.
Andrzej Bialowas* and Franck Dubruc
Faculté de Médecine Campus Nord, Aix-Marseille Université, Marseille, 13344, France.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: andrzej.bialowas{at}

I would define a successful scientist as one who is able to capably and consistently explain the natural world. I say capably because a successful scientist needs to communicate their results and discoveries in a way that is understandable to their peers. I say consistently because the successful scientist must publish frequently to be considered relevant. I think what has changed from my mentors generation is the use of hard metrics, such as the H-index or total grant support, to measure success. The use of these metrics is somewhat unfortunate because some of the most interesting science is given little value with these indices. Publishing a book or conveying your research to the general public doesn't earn you as much credit as it once did. Because grant support is essential to success, we are sometimes forced into pursuits that might not be our main interests. Despite these limitations, it is certainly a wonderful time to be a scientist. Modern communication networks allow us to be a part of the scientific discourse 24 hours a day and to easily find collaborators and other resources. Instead of having to wait months for the next annual society meeting to learn about the cutting edge of research and to meet with collaborators, scientists today have their entire field at their fingertips.
Prosanta Chakrabarty
Museum of Natural Science, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA 70803, USA.
E-mail: prosanta{at}

A successful scientist has made novel and important contributions to scientific progress through the translation of science to practical application. He has acquired vast knowledge, profound understanding, clear perspective, competent skills, and has passion for excellence in conducting independent scientific work of the highest quality. Furthermore, he has established his reputation in both national and international scientific communities. He also has a significant number of papers published in peer-reviewed journals. Additionally, he has received external grants provided by top agencies, prestigious institutions, and foundations to support his projects, through his diligent business planning, strong communication skills, and proficiency in market research, which ultimately paves the way for patent legislation. A successful scientist also has extensive collaborations with leading industries, professional organizations, and reputable academic institutions. He actively imparts his expertise among young and seasoned scientists in addressing emerging issues in his field. He inspires and leads the younger generation to make a difference in science. Finally, he has developed profound philosophy, integrity, and values over and above his knowledge and skills. The concept of a successful scientist has changed through the evolution of multidisciplinary study groups to conduct research using cutting edge technologies, high-throughput, and state-of-the-art equipment. In addition, the successful scientist must now foster a stronger partnership among other researchers, including engineers and entrepreneurs in order to facilitate advancement and address emerging issues in his field. Clearly, a successful scientist nowadays has evolved also into a business manager, an administrator, or even an ambassador to maintain international linkages.
Michael O. Baclig
Research and Biotechnology Division, St. Luke's Medical Center, Quezon City, 1102, Philippines.
E-mail: mobaclig{at}

I entered the biological sciences impassioned by outdoor immersion and inspired by pioneering naturalists like William Bartram, Charles Darwin, and E.O Wilson. I envisioned wilderness exploration to embody the world of research biology, but a quite different reality quickly confronted me. My academic adviser professed to me during my first weeks of undergraduate study: "Field studies are fine for a certain time, but if one is to progress, then they will spend increasing time at a desk." I left that meeting quite confused by those words. But 4 years later, when being handed my degree from that same adviser, I understood what I had heard. The successful scientist of today is not an elusive explorer. The successful scientist of today is a social networker and an entrepreneur. Eccentric scientists that remain isolated in experimental labs or secluded in remote wilderness are doomed to fail. In the present age of science the socialites will prevail. For the scientist today, the smartphone supersedes the compass. The pressed business suit replaces torn field clothes as the quotidian dress. Data collection no longer dominates the research process. The strong emphasis is now placed on innovative data analysis. I've learned to embrace urbanity and sociality, if for nothing else, out of necessity. After all, social connections create opportunity. And though great science still thrives on curiosity, we must market ideas effectively if our insights are to gain notoriety.
David Daversa
Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire, CB2 3EJ, UK.
E-mail: dd384{at}

A successful scientist requires balance and patience, something often overlooked by people in all fields. Balance comes into play when considering the rest of a scientist's life outside their lab or field area of study. It is critical to one's ability to focus and concentrate that they spend some of their time focusing on something other than their work. Whether it be family, sports, or other hobbies, a successful scientist will find something that allows them to decompress and become refreshed. I believe this will allow for more success in the field of science because negative factors like stress and fatigue will play less of a role. Patience is also a crucial trait for a successful scientist; experiments do not always go as planned, but the ability to go with the flow and not force the issue will most likely lead to better results. Leaving one aspect of an experiment that is causing frustration and going to work on another component shows patience and could help a scientist make a break through when the stalled section is revisited. I think my adviser's generation would agree with patience, but not with balance. It seems that scientists belonging to the old school tend to hold onto the belief "all or nothing" when it comes to dedicating time and energy to their work. Obviously that mentality has led to incredible, life-changing discoveries, but I think the world is beginning to discover the important of balance and how it often leads to happiness/success.
Jacob Davignon
Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of Vermont, Burlington, VT 05401, USA.

Number of publications. That used to be the only thing that really mattered. Today it is more complex. The pressure is higher. As before, you need to be curious, find interesting and relevant research questions, obtain funding, execute the project, and report results and conclusions to the research community. But nowadays it is increasingly important to both reach a larger and in some aspects a different audience and gain attention for your results and conclusions. A peer-reviewed paper and a couple of conference presentations are simply not enough. More and more peer-reviewed papers are published every year and at the same time the publishing landscape is changing rapidly with all online publication possibilities. This will result in changes in how we reach our audiences and probably also the audience itself. For the future, I think it will be even more important to attract attention for your results and conclusions but also for yourself as you are increasingly becoming a trademark. You need to think about what you represent, both in real life and online. To stay on top of the game you also need to attract the best students and the best co-workers and for that you need to have a real interest for leadership and people's personal development. In the future, leadership and strong communication skills will be increasingly important; you need to be able to get the work done and the message across in a new and fast changing media landscape.
Helena Filipsson
Department of Geology, Lund University, Lund, 223 62, Sweden.
E-mail: helena.filipsson{at}

A successful scientist is one who loves science, works for the prosperous future of mankind, and makes the world learn his invented principles. In my opinion, the generation above us thinks a successful scientist invents gadgets and principles of science, but in our generation we are a step ahead. We think the scientist whose discovery grabs the everyday life of a common man is a successful one.
Mohsin Furqan
Medical/University of Health Sciences Lahore, Faisalabad, Punjab, 38000, Pakistan.
E-mail: mohsin_furqan{at}

My definition of a successful scientist is one who preaches quality over quantity, is involved in collaborative projects where he or she can provide knowledge to different fields as well as work with others to progress their personal field of interest, and can analyze data in novel ways such that they are able to gain new insight not seen with typical methods. Previous generations did not have the luxury of being able to collect as many subjects and sheer volume of data that we can today. My generation has never faced the issue of too little hard drive space or simple processing steps that required days of work. While this is great for scientists of today, it has also created a problem: We are now bombarded with data, but are we more knowledgeable today than previous generations? Previously, scientists may have had to make the decisions a priori on what data to collect because of laborious collections that are now much simpler. A successful scientist in 2012 must demonstrate restraint—just because we can collect this data still does not mean that we have an easier job analyzing and providing meaningful conclusions. This will require the successful scientist to have great insight into their field and how to analyze these variables in order to pick out "the diamonds in the rough" that will lead to the next big discovery.
Kaitlin Gallagher
University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, N2L3G1, Canada.
E-mail: kgallagh{at}

Science is truly analogous to philosophy. It stems from the love and pursuit of wisdom by intellectual means and moral self-discipline in which humans rationally investigate the truths of society through research. It ends as a form of art when science becomes a product of human creativity and effort that can be utilized to comprehend life, especially the mechanisms by which debilitating health outcomes occur. Thus, being a successful scientist involves more than the exchange of ideas and theories to foster the betterment of mankind with the hope of ameliorating diseases and disorders. It also centers on the essence of innovation and finding answers to questions that were once considered unfathomable or impossible. This definition of a successful scientist remains unaltered between my mentor's generation and my own generation. Nevertheless, in my generation, the definition of a successful scientist also entails an individual who is a mentor for those that aspire to pursue careers in research and is a good teacher. As a teacher, a successful scientist provides the educational tools for students to determine their lifelong aspirations and to fulfill their destinies of becoming research professionals. He or she is one that enables students to become agents of change in the field of scientific research and the writers of their own life stories as aspiring scientists. In other words, he or she uses a philosophy of teaching that promotes inspiration in young scientists and is centered on transformative learning.
Joyonna Gamble-George
Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37209, USA.
E-mail: joyonna.c.gamble-george{at}

Science searches for the logically explainable simplicity from the apparently complex and diversified expression of nature. A successful scientist is one who can provide his insight to explore that and creates a time-tested impact on the society. I think that the above definition is true for all time. But now success of a scientist is measured in terms of projects, funds, papers, etc. Science is now becoming more technical with increasing input of sophisticated instrumentations. Therefore, funding is now a major concern for the scientists to acquire those sophistications. More papers are needed for fetching funds. Therefore, it becomes a cyclical process where number of papers, impact factors, number of funds, amount of grants, number of collaborative networks, number of patents, etc. matter. So, scientific success is now a numbers game. However, at the end of the process still quality persists and the best judge of it is time.
Anirban Ghosh
Department of Zoology and Immunobiology Lab, Kolkata, West Bengal, 700 110, India.
E-mail: aghosh06{at}

A successful scientist cultivates in him or herself and others the timeless characteristics of integrity, curiosity, vision, humanity, diligence, and genius. In my mentor's generation, data generation and communication were slower due to limitations of technology. E-mail, Internet, and videoconferencing were not readily available, so scientific meetings were crucial in the exchange and generation of ideas. To be successful in that environment, one had to be a true citizen-collaborator of the scientific community, especially not afraid of sharing and starting discussions of new and unpublished results. Unfortunately, technological advances, together with increases in the number of researchers and a difficult economy, have led to increased competition for research funds, and more and more researchers are reluctant to present unpublished results at conferences. Garnering a research grant and publishing quickly could qualify one as a successful scientist today. The ever-rising number of scientific journals and modes of publishing, coupled with the peer-review system, has even more power than yesterday to shape our definition of good science and successful scientists. Success in the eyes of scientists and the public depends on the quality of a scientist's publications and discoveries and the human stories underlying his or her achievements that thereafter come to light. Today, more scientists are seen forming academia-business partnerships and commercializing their discoveries. Bringing discoveries closer to people's daily lives and answering patients faster are new forms of success becoming more commonly possible. We must balance these inherited and new "colors" and provide our palette to the next generation.
Nanami Gotoh
Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06520, USA.
E-mail: nanami.gotoh{at}

According to P. Mertens, senior scholar in information systems, most professors are decathletes. I agree. There is more to being a successful scientist than publishing papers. Most (full, tenured) professors are responsible for teaching, guiding students, finance, communicating with the press, or leading their institution. The job description is complex, but most professors seem happy with their jobs. I think that this is because they choose some disciplines which they love and are successful in. I neither think that the job description and the definition of success have changed, nor that they will change. When my generation is tenured, most of us will compete in the decathlon, just like our mentors did, and we will be evaluated in different roles. What appears to have changed is our education. Now that we are almost entirely judged on basis of published papers, most of us receive little or no professional training in leadership, finance, public relations, or even teaching. Let me ask who is the most successful scientist in your field, in your generation, according to publications? Now, who is the best teacher in your field, in your country, or in the world? Who of your peers is capable of leading his institution through the next decade? I find the first question easy to answer, but the latter two are much harder. It seems like we are learning to sprint. Is that enough to become a successful decathlete? I really hope it is, but I am skeptical.
Jörn Grahl
Information Systems and Business Administration, Mainz, 55128, Germany.
E-mail: grahl{at}

I think a "successful scientist" is like a "child": infinitely curious about the unknown, incessantly asking new questions while learning from previous ones, and thus constantly improving oneself. He/she never grows too old, or too wise, to stop asking questions or wondering about the nature/surroundings. Ambiguity doesn't bother him/her. Put one "child" with another "child," and they will start asking questions. They may agree with each other or convince one another by a fair play or sound reason, but their ability to convince other "children" is very important for them to remain in "the club." They may even come up with some new questions that they might not have thought before but that's only that—being a "child." Constantly walking in the realm of unknown, extending the sphere of knowledge. With changing era their toys may change, but "children" remain "children." I think the basic definition hasn't changed much between my mentor's generation and mine, although the growth environment of "children" has changed remarkably. There are good changes and not so good ones. On one side, with increasing social justice, in my generation "the club" is increasingly more multiracial/colorful and ever more welcoming to "children" from all walks of life. At the same time, with increasing competition, "children" have become less social and more secretive than before. But these are more of fluid generational attributes—like toys—they are important and inseparable parts of a "child's" identity, but not the defining ones.
Ashutosh Gupta
National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.
E-mail: guptaas{at}

Steve Jobs, arguably the most successful salesman ever, famously self-identified as an artist. This transfiguration from tech boss to a tech visionary was the key to his success. Scientists, who are conditioned to think of themselves as a unique enclave of normal society, must achieve this boundary—blurring sense of self-identity in order to be considered successful. Great contributions to our knowledge of our Universe, our Earth, and ourselves will come from people with unique perspectives. Furthermore, in order to call appropriate attention to these forthcoming discoveries, the people who made them will have to be iconoclasts like Jobs. They will need to be artists. This is nothing new. Early molecular biologists knew their exploding discipline would change the world, and they talked about it endlessly. But let's not forget; we only tolerated Jobs because his gadgets worked.
Stephen Hinshaw
Department of Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
E-mail: hinshaw{at}

A successful scientist used to focus primarily on conducting excellent research in the past. Expertise in the discipline can be gained through in-depth research and smart design of experiments. As the scientist gained authority on his area of expertise, funding for future research will be supported. Passion drove the creation of new knowledge with a relentless pursuit of scientific truth and discovery. With time, more requirements are needed to define success in a scientific career. The ability to conduct outstanding research work has become an entry requisite to the field of research rather than a definition for scientific success. Today, a successful scientist is perhaps one who is also able to garner strong support for his research ideas and attract substantial funding to sustain the cutting-edge research executed in the lab. With monetary involvement, there is a constant need to publicize the research results. It also becomes inevitable that social networking has gained significant relevance to how research can be conducted today. As such, the successful scientist today also needs to possess superior public relations skills and have the know-how to market research ideas. As more scientists are trained each year, research has also grown competitive. In places where manpower (graduate students) is abundant, success is defined by having the latest technology available to generate high-impact publications. Passion is often lacking and commonly replaced by the pressure to outperform. Consequently, besides having brilliant multi-tasking capabilities, a successful scientist should encourage passion for research in future generations as well.
Lee Yih Hong
Nanyang Technological University, School of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, Division of Chemistry and Biological Chemistry, 637371, Singapore.
E-mail: titusster{at}

Successful explorers are those who move deepest into uncharted territory. Yet if the first scientists were E. coli, swimming into the deep with a whip of their flagella, then in the course of our generation the scientific community has undergone a revolution comparable to the emergence of the first nervous systems in evolution. Experimental consortia such as the 1000 genomes project, our eyes, ears, and hands, now distribute colossal amounts of data freely and quickly over the Internet. Cross-disciplinarians like Gamow, the physicist known to biochemists in the 1950s for conceiving of a flawed genetic code, have found their place at the other end of synapses, using bioinformatics and systems modeling to integrate raw data in the formation of new hypotheses. Collaborators; interdisciplinary teams; groups with flat, open structures; and ultimately whole international communities with pooled resources are flourishing. As a result of this newfound interconnectedness, few in the general population can name the most recent Nobel Prize winners in Physics or Medicine, but everyone knows about CERN and The Human Genome Project. Ultimately this is a triumph for science. Together we push the boundaries of discovery farther than our predecessors could imagine.
Justin Jee
School of Medicine and Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University, New York, NY 10016, USA.

A successful scientist is devoted to furthering the world's understanding of nature. This definition is timeless, and is at the core of what it means to practice science. The business of science, however, has almost surely changed compared to when my mentors were early in their careers. Tenured faculty positions have become increasingly scarce, and the amount of time devoted to acquiring grants has skyrocketed. Addressing meaningful questions demands great tenacity from a scientist, and these obstacles are unlikely to dissuade or hinder the most successful scientists in my generation from making deep discoveries.
Christopher Kanan
Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0404, USA.
E-mail: ckanan{at}

A successful scientist finds the truth where no one else sees it; she finds reward in serving future society and most of the time does not find reward in her present. Science is becoming closer to arts and the society is starting to give more credit to science than ever before, not only to improve everyday life but also to ensure safety and survival (e.g., to fight pandemics and stop/slow down global warming).
Kassymkhan Kapparov
Bureau for Economic Research, Almaty, 50000, Kazakhstan.
E-mail: kassymkhan{at}

Science today, compared to that of the previous generation, has blurred boundaries between disciplines and is more interdisciplinary in nature than ever. With diminishing financial resources (scarce public funds) and increasing global challenges—from climate change and natural disasters to famine and health problems—science has become more impact-driven as well. This push toward more social impact is likely to drive more and more technology transfer, giving rise to more startups. More scientists getting involved in startups might in turn earn them more resources for their research, completing a "value cycle" that might be able to strengthen the academia-industry (and academia-society) linkage to unprecedented levels. With the tremendous growth of social networking through the internet, there is a growing demand of a better understanding of science by an increasingly tech-savvy public, which means science has also become increasingly democratic and transparent. All these emerging global trends of cross-disciplinary research, scarcity of resources, demand for impact and transparency, and the rise of social media did not exist before. The next generation of scientists will have to integrate at least some, if not all, of these trends into their scientific endeavors. This means the impact factor will no longer be the lead performance indicator and measure of success. I think experiences and achievements outside the lab like the number of patents and startups, non-conventional fundraising skills, involvement in politics and policy-making and public engagement through social media and scientific writing will also determine the success of a scientist.
Faisal Khan
Oxford Protein Informatics Group, University of Oxford, Oxford, OX1 3TG, UK.
E-mail: faisal.khan{at}

To define the successful scientist, it is necessary to study the doctrine of research in its most primitive form practiced by our predecessors. Unlike many of our mentors who consider research as a challenging fun hobby, the lab as a playground, and instruments as toys to study their curiosity, we view it as a battlefield. The modern scientist is constantly at war for credit, fame, and recognition and has forgotten a fundamental principle of being a scientist. As a young scientist, that is how I imagined and wanted research to be. I performed flawless assays, maintained immaculate notebooks, and followed protocols to perfection. My intention for publication and fame was so strong that became increasingly frustrated when I received neither. Simply put, I had forgotten how to enjoy the research process and the beauty of scientific discovery amidst my drive for recognition. Like my 56 year old mentor, I have learned that a successful scientist is one that can set his own selfish ambitions aside and work solely for the pursuit of scientific understanding with joy. I'm now able to find gratification in my daily work, collaborate with colleagues, and encourage unity in the scientific community. I can now genuinely appreciate a published paper that does not have "Hua Feng Kuan" on the list of authors.
Hua Feng Kuan
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94122–2616, USA.
E-mail: hua.kuan{at}

Memo: All academics at the University of Greatness
Dear academics,
In order to inspire you to greatness, we the Management have simplified our performance management system to a single metric. This metric is a weighted average similar to that used to grade students. The weighted average score formula = 0.4 * research score + 0.4 * teaching score + 0.2 * HoD assessment Research score = H-index (capped at 10 for prolific publishers)
Teaching score = average score from your most recent course/student evaluations
HoD score = how much your department head likes or fears you (scored from 0 to 10)
The weightings may be adjusted by the Faculty Head in order to achieve his desired mark. The classifications are as follows:
75 % or above: Academic (1st class) - You are officially successful. (Note this will not result in additional pay, only additional workload.)
60-74%: Academic (2nd class)
50-59%: Academic (3rd class)
40-49%: Unclassified.
The unclassified academics will be required to attend additional courses to improve their performance. Academics scoring less that 40% will be given one re-examination opportunity 12 months from their first assessment date. Should the academic fail this assessment, they will be dismissed.
NB: Others may have other definitions of what makes a successful scientist or academic. Such people are dangerous. Please take corrective action by showing them this memo or reporting them to the Faculty Head using the anonymous tip line.
(The University of Greatness is not based on any particular university)
Genevieve Langdon
Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, Western Cape, 7700, South Africa.
E-mail: genevieve.langdon{at}

Over time my idea of success has changed from exposure to more individuals. There exists a common underlying theme of contentment and satisfaction. I began in a very basic science lab almost a decade ago. The postdocs and grad students who nurtured my interest in science had mainly the goal of tenure track positions in mind. Some of them flourished and went on to professorships, but others languished, supporting their families on an indefinite postdoctoral salary or delaying their family. The image of success there seemed to focus on academia and achieving tenure. My impression was that my mentors' rationale for this ideal of success was the promise of creativity and freedom in pursuit of pure learning and discovery. Now, as a newly minted PhD, I still wonder what success is supposed to be. The tangible result of my thesis project is a published paper on a novel finding. Is that important in the grand scheme of things? Realistically, no. What I now want to accomplish in order to be a successful scientist is to test my scientific training, in terms of adaptability and creativity outside of the ivory tower and continue to grow intellectually. However, I would be fine being less successful as a scientist if it meant more success as a complex individual with loved ones and other interests.
Gloria Lefkowitz
Biomedical Sciences Program, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093–0665, USA.
E-mail: lorikuo{at}

A successful scientist is a skilled craftsperson dedicated to advancing the boundaries of knowledge and practicing evidence-based research without fear of favor or sanction by the existing hegemonic political economy. This definition has changed with the expansion of available information, tools, and techniques. The core has remained largely intact. A range of socioeconomic and political inhibitions have been sacrificed in the face of data supporting cooperation over competition as a critical human species characteristic.
Rasigan Maharajh
Institute of Economic Research on Innovation, Tshwane University of Technology, Tshwane, Gauteng, 1, South Africa.
E-mail: maharajhr{at}

Success is relative and defined differently by different people, so will be a successful scientist. However, there are general measures of achievements used to define a successful scientist, these include; publications, citations, funding, collaborations, supervision, patents, etc. A successful scientist is someone who is happy and leading a healthy, balanced life. S/he has capacity and pleasure in sharing scientific excellence. A successful scientist is a mentor, leader, pioneer, insightful writer, and communicator who is able to communicate ideas with clarity and evidence. In a nutshell and my opinion, a successful scientist is utilitarianism. In the past, successful scientists were mainly driven by productive curiosity which provided both motivation and direction in solving problems associated with global challenges. They had strong opinions and well-organized collected knowledge which is used to create novel ideas. In developing countries such South Africa, today most young scientists who are from disadvantaged backgrounds look for incentives that would bring security and being a scientist is one of them. Thus, they see a scientific career as a job (money driven) rather than work (passion, discovery, and curiosity driven). Today's scientists cannot set and follow standards of a great compassionate leader. To become a successful young scientist one must be willing to learn. Despite the aforementioned challenges there is a huge demand and need for successful young scientists globally, especially in Africa to find solutions for African challenges such as poverty, unemployment, and inequality. A successful scientist is someone who has passion for science and will leave the legacy to benefit coming generations.
Rapela Regina Maphanga
Materials Modelling Centre, University of Limpopo, Polokwane, Limpopo, 727, South Africa.
E-mail: rapela.maphanga{at}

The success of a scientist is generally gauged by the significance of the contribution to the field in which they choose to conduct their career; thus, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein and Marie Curie are acknowledged by professionals and laypeople alike as successful scientists. However, in recent years the growing need for interdisciplinary skills within scientific networks and teams have modified this widely held perception of the successful scientist as an individualistic and solitary worker. Yet I believe that in coming years successful scientists will gradually be substituted by successful scientific teams, and in today's competitive world, in which rankings—on which in many cases funding is based—are common practice in many different activities and disciplines, bibliometric measures will come to hold far greater sway. Nevertheless, on an individual level scientific success can still be evaluated by quantifying the cumulative impact and relevance of a scientist's research output (such as the h-index proposed by J. E. Hirsch in 2005). As a result, scientific quality (i.e., important publications) will still prevail over the sheer quantity of publications as a barometer of scientific productivity. Thus, it is likely that in future the application of bibliometric tools will set the standards for identifying the most prominent and successful scientists. In other words, tell me your h-index and I'll tell you who you are...
Antoni Margalida
Division of Conservation Biology, Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Bern, Bern, 3012, Switzerland.
E-mail: antoni.margalida{at}

A successful scientist is one who wonders about life and science, looks around him or her and notices what the world needs, and then realizes that what we have nowadays is not just enough to avoid suffering or disaster, so he goes further than the actual knowledge limits and finds or creates something new. A successful scientist uses this discovery to make the world a better place, and is recognized for that, but continues looking for more. Also, very important, a successful scientist is pleased with his or her job. I am not sure that the definition of a successful scientist has changed between generations, I think it depends on a person's perspective: Some may think that a successful scientist is the one that has a lot of published articles, discoveries and money, and I do not deny that it is also important, but in my point of view, success is more than that.
Adria Selene Martínez Ricartti
Escuela de Biotecnología y Alimentos, Tecnológico de Monterrey, Monterrey, Nuevo León, 64849, M��xico.
E-mail: adlunamar{at}

A successful scientist not only drives creative pursuits in their field but additionally they have actively mastered effective communication (both with scientific and non-scientific groups), management, and mentoring skills. They employ all these skills to foster the generation of new scientific ideas and information, and to foster in others an appreciation for science. A successful scientist adapts to the changing world: They take on new challenges, learn new skills, and mentor others to do the same.
Lisa McDonnell
Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada.
E-mail: mcdonnell.lisa5{at}

A successful scientist is a person who has identified or discovered a new phenomenon and either developed a useful outcome from the observation that is widely used or communicated the observation widely to others who have subsequently done so. There is little change between generations but the emphasis has perhaps shifted between the two possible outcomes with the former now gaining favor.
John McEwan
Animal Genomics, AgResearch, Mosgiel, Otago - Dunedin, 9024, New Zealand.
E-mail: mcewanjc{at}

World ranking lists for athletes, Billboard charts for pop stars, publication lists for scientists … every profession has its own yardstick. A legitimate question, however, is, whether the number of publications and citations reflects indeed the success of an individual scientist. Certainly it is valid to some extent to judge a scientist by his publication list, but we have to ask ourselves: Does successful also equal good? The answer is in our view: No! An important attribute of a good scientist is the courage to challenge generally accepted doctrines and to follow innovative ideas. This might not be the fastest way to succeed—one should be prepared to enjoy the fruits of one's labor only years later, since usually in science it takes many small steps and setbacks from an initial idea to a final breakthrough. Another important aspect is in our opinion that science is getting more and more networked and collaborative. The number of articles of high-impact journals that feature an increasing number of authors seems especially to reflect the necessity to initiate good collaborations. Accordingly, it is crucial for a scientific career to present one's data on conferences and in publications in an appealing way and also to be open for discussions and constructive criticism. This is a trend that has changed most obviously in comparison to our mentors' generation and can be really critical for a scientist's "to be or not to be."
Karin Meier* and Judith Kreher
Institute for Molecular Biology and Tumor Research, Philipps-University Marburg, Marburg, Hessen, 35032, Germany.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: meier{at}

Smart and efficient workers are much more favored than just hard workers. Impact factor of publications, consistent funding, patents etc. have become parameters to evaluate the success more than earlier days. PIs are more dynamic, ready to change area of research more easily than ever before, in pursuit of funding. Successful scientists are more dynamic, faster achievers, more exploratory, smarter, and more open minded than before. They also tend to market their science by seminars, workshops, podcasts, lectures, online videos, and interviews more often than their predecessors.
Biswapriya Misratah
Center for Chemical BIology, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, 11900, Malaysia.
E-mail: bbmisraccb{at}

Most scientists today have a Doctor of Philosophy degree. Thus, by definition, scientists are Philosophers of the New Age. Alas, most PhDs today fail to understand the significance of their degrees. Three historical figures—Socrates, Plato (Socrates' student), and Aristotle (Plato's student)—who laid the foundations of Western philosophy 2000 years ago, exemplify what a successful scientist should be. These philosophers are known not only for increasing society's understanding of the natural world but also for their pedagogy, for their efforts to spark curiosity among the public, and for training the next generation of philosophers. These skills, which have stayed true for the past two millennia, have been critical for success in my mentor's generation. But why would anyone stop and think about philosophy when the perceived barometer of success today is funding and publications? Success of scientists in the previous generation was not based on number of papers but quality of discoveries. Today, scientists need to be continually productive. Today's science requires collaboration across diverse disciplines. Keeping abreast of rapidly changing technologies today is a must. However, the changing nature of the world would demand more from scientists of my generation. With mankind's population crossing 7 billion, our generation will soon be witness to a world grappling crisis on various fronts—water, environment, food, disease, education etc. There will undoubtedly be good scientists who will provide new breakthroughs, but the most successful of all will be the ones who carry mankind through the rough waters right ahead.
Gaurav Moghe
Genetics Program and Department of Plant Biology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI 48823, USA.
E-mail: moghegau{at}

In today's world, successful scientists do more than simply publish research and secure grant money; they act as ambassadors to a world that can be skeptical of the research process. Whereas several metrics have been designed to assess scientists (e.g., the h-index, Google's I10-index, or the number of publications or citations), these metrics are grounded in how scientists view themselves. It is important to consider how the rest of the world views scientists as well. In previous generations, success in the scientific world was best recognized by tenure, fellowships, awards and prizes, and election to academies and societies (such as AAAS). Tenure remains a critical indication of the early success of a scientist, but modern scientists will undoubtedly begin to measure their success by the coverage their work receives on social media sites, post-publication review sites (e.g., Faculty of 1000), and television or Internet video outlets. Successful scientists take their research to the public through open-access publication or archiving in free institutional repositories, moving science from arcane journals on library shelves to a transparent and publicly available storehouse of knowledge. In doing so, they advance the cause of science as a whole and ensure the speediest possible rate of new discoveries.
Ben Mudrak
Department of Microbiology and Immunology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7290, USA.
E-mail: benmudrak{at}

I don't know what discoveries they will make, but the successful scientists of my generation will make these breakthroughs by embracing the new forces of open knowledge and open science. My mentor's colleagues strive for successful research platforms by breaking down research silos and pursuing interdisciplinary collaborations with other research groups. Hence, for me and for my cohort, such collaboration is already the baseline. I am an engineer, but I have worked on successful projects with researchers from microbiology to materials science, from public health to physics. In an era of enormous data sets and tremendous global challenges, the groundbreaking research of my generation will engage larger and more open-access collaboration that breach traditional boundaries of nations and institutions. It will be open to academics, corporations, and citizen scientists, connected by new global networks. My mentor's generation is judged by limited metrics such as the impact factors of the journals they publish in and the h-index generated from their publications. Their articles are gated by a few anonymous reviewers and largely published behind pay-walls. For my generation, the importance of these portals to success will decrease, as the publication and recognition formats for our work will become more flexible, crowd-based, and open. If we, as young scientists, dare to embrace this new way of doing science—in the open—we will be rewarded with a golden age of discoveries and a generation of successful scientists.
Lina Nilsson
Department of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 97420, USA.
E-mail: nilsson{at}

Although nowadays science can seem like a rat-race for funding and recognition, the best scientists are not the ones chasing these prizes. Just as in past generations, the success of a scientist is the quality of her science. So what is good science? Science is not about throughput, or citations. Rather, it's about novelty; discovery; finding patterns that are perpendicular to the dogma. Although most successful scientists happen to be prolific, one game-changing paper, even one that's not cited much, is a greater success than reams of unoriginal work. So what character traits lead a scientist to success? The most successful scientists are inexhaustibly curious. They carry their puzzles with them everywhere they go, and they are most alive when they're immersed in a problem. They pursue science with gumption. They are never satisfied with unproven dogma, and they continually push to reveal truths where others make assumptions. They ask questions that others think are too stupid to ask. They are like children, constantly playing and futzing, and experiencing everything with fresh eyes. It is their playfulness that allows them to do the most revolutionary, game-changing work. Scientists face different challenges today than they used to, but that is the nature of science. What is not different is the character of great scientists. The explosion of technology in our time has impacted some of the ways science is done, but success itself has stayed constant. Success comes through a scientist's playfulness, and in the attitude she takes to her science.
Matthew Oberhardt
Departments of Computer Science and Molecular Biology/Biotechnology, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, 69978, Israel.
E-mail: mattoby{at}

My definition of a successful scientist is one that has developed lifelong learning skills, one that has acquired and promotes the acquisition of multidisciplinary knowledge, one that uses and encourages the use of edge cutting technology, one that applies knowledge and experience to the common good and wellbeing of the global human society, and last but not least one who believes in integrity and collaboration. This definition has changed somehow in my generation owing to the fast-paced development in technology that enhanced the interaction among the global scientific community and hence led to more developed collaboration and efficient use of resources.
Mussie Okbamichael
Department of Earth Science, Santa Monica College, Gardena, CA 90247, USA.
E-mail: mussieo{at}

A successful scientist is someone who addresses pressing societal needs and shares their knowledge broadly. In previous generations, communicating science to policy-makers and the public was not valued (and was often discouraged). However, as evidenced by the recent explosion of the AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowship class sizes, scientists of my generation are increasingly seeking opportunities to inform decision-making. Today's complex and urgent challenges—from global climate change, to food security, to emerging infectious diseases—require unprecedented communication and collaboration, as well as innovative partnerships and solutions grounded in best-available science. Scientific credibility, integrity, and productivity are just as important as they have ever been. Advances in science abound over recent decades, but in many cases, our policies and actions fail to reflect our understanding. To ensure that science is at the table for informed decision-making, we can no longer afford to stay isolated in the "Ivory Tower," becoming experts on narrower and narrower interests. Instead, we must work to become "multilingual," skilled in translating science for diverse audiences, interacting with decision-makers to understand their needs, and using social media, public lectures, and other venues for communication and education. We must also foster an interdisciplinary workforce, and encourage and create career opportunities both inside and outside of academia. The "success" of a scientist should no longer be measured simply by the number of peer-reviewed publications in high-profile journals, but instead by the impact that an individual has on society as a whole.
Laura Petes
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office, Silver Spring, MD 20910, USA.
E-mail: Laura.Petes{at}

"Take a chance, find the words, find the metaphor, share the beauty, and tell them what's on your mind. Tell them a story." This is how Robert Krulwich ended his graduation address to the Caltech Class of 2008, and it encapsulates what is means to be a successful scientist today. A successful scientist these days must communicate: with colleagues, across scientific disciplines, with professionals in other fields, and perhaps most crucially, with the public. In an age when discoveries are incremental and findings arise from the effort of many, we must communicate with colleagues to forge productive collaborations, within our fields, and across specialties, and make the most of our resources. Also, although academic scientists traditionally have looked down upon other professions, it's necessary that today's scientist effectively communicate with professionals in business, law, medicine, and particularly, with policy-makers. Most scientific research is supported in great part by public funds, and popular support stems from the perspectives of the individual. A successful scientist will improve the world in some way, and what better way than to share our passion with the consumer, the voter, the student. With the increasing importance of technology, it is also imperative that scientists help maintain a science-literate public. However, since it is impossible to educate everyone about every specific science concept, it might be more vital that scientists serve as representatives to educate others about the practice of critical thinking, to engage them with our "stories," to put a human face on the lab coat.
Jess Porter Abate
University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.

Apart from having a good record of publications, grants, awards, and job offers, a successful scientist must have some original research contribution which is widely used by other scientists and helps science to progress. Due to risk-avoiding tendencies, most scientists work on regular research projects and do not work on ambitious ones. A successful scientist should be able to devote some of his/her time and energy on challenging problems which may lead to breakthroughs, although rarely. Although the definition of a successful scientist has not changed much since the last generation, it has become more objective. For example, the number of publications, citations, and impact factors of journals has become more fashionable in defining the success of a scientist despite the fact that most scientists are aware that these indicators reflect the "social factor" more than the science potential. For example, scientists who are well networked get more citations, are positioned at reputed institutes, and have a large number of collaborators, with a higher probability of having more publications and publications in high impact journals.
Jayanti Prasad
Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune, Maharashtra, 411007, India.

A successful scientist is transformative. His or her work changes the way we think and do things. It makes us think farther and do better. It improves things that improve people's lives. It opens dreams of future possibilities; it makes future possibilities possible. The work of a successful scientist creates fresh possibilities for fellow scientists. It stimulates imagination and courage. It inspires future minds to extend its essence, and to out-vision and out-execute what was done. Hence, a piece of successful science leaves a legacy long after its momentary flame extinguishes. A successful scientist lights a potentially infinite series of minds lighting minds unendingly into the future, so that the future of science will forever be bright. Thus: Successful science is timeless.
Kai Quek
Department of Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.
E-mail: quek{at}

In my opinion, a successful scientist is one who has achieved in contributing novel ideas and boosting interest in his/her field of research. A successful scientist is good at demonstrating the scope and/or limit in the existing knowledge in the field and presenting new information that makes the field move forward for further refinement. In addition, a successful scientist should be able to inspire others and train people (at the least his/her mentees) in achieving higher level of performance in their chosen field of work. The biggest shift in expectation from scientists of my mentor's genre and our genre is in the expectation of getting grant money. In this era of high-throughput data generation, high speed and high cost of experimentation, creative thinking has been dwarfed by rush to publication and further accrual of grant money. It is not the volume of publications but the impact of those publications in the field that should be the benchmark for rating the success of a scientist. I believe the pressure of fiscal expectation on the scientists is compromising their creativity and quality of work to the point that actual scientific productivity is being eroded.
Mohammed Rahman
Department of Biomedical Genetics, University of Rochester Medical Genetics, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.
E-mail: mohammed_rahman{at}

A successful scientist is one who is able enough to identify a problem worth investigation, project it as a problem, and get funding to work on it. Ability to identify a problem stands as an acid test for a graduate student to rise as a scientist and it encompasses a whole lot of things, like knowing what is going on in one's own field or interested field, feasibility, competition, interest, technical training, cross-correlation attitude, etc. Previously, a mentor made multiple copies of himself in terms of professional training imparted by him on his students. Presently, based on the diverse academic and career profile of young scientists, it appears that present-day mentors facilitate their students in what they want to be.
M. Selvaraj
Molecular Biophysics Unit, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, Karnataka, 560 012, India.
E-mail: mselvaraj{at}

Successful scientists are creative people who do not restrict their reading to the particular area of research that they are currently focused on, but instead read widely, including work outside their own field. They work on multiple projects with multiple methods putting together ideas in novel combinations. They don't give up from failed expectations or anomalous experimental results. They focus on key problems rather than being distracted by peripheral issues and they pursue their research without being destroyed prematurely by apparent disconfirmations that may arise from difficulties in getting good results. Hence they stay persistent, perseverant, and motivated in the face of multiple failures. They must stay confident in their data and theories in order to continue to work on their experiments over and over without forcing the data to fit the theory. Yanina Shevchenko said that it is all about passion and curiosity, which provides motivation and direction with the addition of collaboration and good work-life balance.
Aline Simo
Cape Town, 7129, South Africa.
E-mail: simo{at}

No matter what else it may be, success is a construct that evolves as it is conceptualized, sought after, and perceived. Those who want to feel it—right now—might try to imitate their heroes. This approach is likely to lead to the realization that future achievement and present perceptions of success are different. In 40 years I'll be 65 and my success won't matter—not even to me. The biggest challenge to the future success of science is the task of synthesizing enormous amounts of previous thought and data that will be collected by the yottabyte into a coherent picture of the universe that transcends all levels on the scales of time and space. Can a single mind hope to contribute alone? The difference between my adviser's generation and my own is that the success of "a scientist" is meaningless. It is the success of science itself to meet the grand synthetic challenge that will define our generation. If it does, then we will all be successful. What to do? Connect to and participate in the collective mind through your Mendeley account and Open Notebook Science blog, figure out what your mentor missed because of the disciplinary boundaries that were imposed upon her by the tragic absence of Wikipedia and Google Scholar, crowdfund your next project on RocketHub and, most important, synthesize.
Cameron Ray Smith
Department of Systems and Computational Biology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY 10461, USA.
E-mail: cameron.smith{at}

A successful scientist can present an oral summary of their current research in terms schoolchildren and career professionals alike could understand. Such scientists must advocate for their field, through social media, Internet, and public engagements. They must stay abreast of literature, whether to generate new ideas or to reveal potential collaborators. Scientists must be available for counsel or questions; they should endeavor to be touchstones for their discipline. Successful scientists must realize that mere pursuit of a degree will no longer guarantee them a job upon graduation. They must be career-proactive, "networking or not working." They adopt a global perspective on competition, hiring, and publication. Their success should not come through duplicity, however. Scientists must vow to present their work truthfully and ethically, considering their impact on future generations. Today's scientist must learn business terms, management skills, conflict resolution, and budget-making. To these ends, he must attend conferences, lectures, and workshops to expand his skill set. Finally, these scientists must be "free"—they must not be swayed by strong financial or government interests. They should strive for creative, detailed work that encourages future scientists.
Michael A. Tarselli
Biomedisyn Corporation, Woodbridge, CT 06525, USA.
E-mail: mtarselli{at}

A successful scientist is someone who, as well as expanding knowledge, is able to share the wonder of their work with non-scientists—including students—and so promote the role of science in society. Some of the previous generation might say the role of a scientist is to indulge curiosity and so expand knowledge, to produce papers in the peer-reviewed literature, and to share new understanding with other experts.
Alex Thompson
Wellington, 6012, New Zealand.
E-mail: alex_thompsonnz{at}

Old definition: A scientist who does good science: publishes interesting articles (which is not synonymous with articles in high-impact journals), collaborates (which should include sharing ideas), produces high-quality data, mentors the people in his lab well, is good at teaching, etc. New definition: A scientist who brings the most money to the institution.
Gökhan Tolun
University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA.
E-mail: gokhan.tolun{at}

In many ways, the ultimate definition of a successful scientist today is the same as it has always been: a person who discovers new and useful information on behalf of society. This is not just a theoretical aphorism, but a good functional definition of "success" in science, even now. Sadly, the current practical definition has to be expanded to include the reality that no scientist can be truly effective—and therefore ultimately successful—without mastering the art of obtaining taxpayer or corporate funding. That is the biggest shift between my mentor's career as a scientist and that of my peers: My mentor was highly successful without having to spend a major portion of his time writing grant proposals to a variety of funding agencies. Sure, he had to apply for and receive external funding (ocean research cruises are expensive!), but to my eyes the game has shifted now toward an emphasis on obtaining grant money over any other standard of scholarly activity. Aside from the funding question, what will the future bring? An ever-increasing movement toward highly interdisciplinary research that aims to solve defined societal problems. Gone are the days of back-lab obscure research done in isolation, unless it has a clear and obvious impact on a larger societal question. The "successful" scientist will be one who sees—and can clearly explain—the important societal impacts behind scientific results.
Kevin Vranes
E Source, Boulder, CO 80301, USA.
E-mail: kvranes{at}

The definition in my mentor's generation had to do with one's publications and impact they had on the field of research. Today, the definition includes grantsmanship. One's "income" is as important (or in some cases more important) than one's output.
Judith Weis
Department of Biological Sciences, Rutgers University, Newark, NJ 07102, USA.
E-mail: jweis{at}