The week on Nature Network: Friday 18 July

This weekly Nautilus column highlights some of the online discussion at Nature Network in the preceding week that is of relevance to scientists as authors. The Nature Network week column is archived here.

Deanne Taylor asks what are the most important questions and problems in our respective fields? If we’re not working on them—why not? She draws attention to the transcript of a talk, ‘You and Your Research’, given by Richard Hamming at Bell Labs in 1986, who writes: “I claim that some of the reasons why so many people who have greatness within their grasp don’t succeed are: they don’t work on important problems, they don’t become emotionally involved, they don’t try and change what is difficult to some other situation which is easily done but is still important, and they keep giving themselves alibis why they don’t. They keep saying that it is a matter of luck. I’ve told you how easy it is; furthermore I’ve told you how to reform. Therefore, go forth and become great scientists!” Deanne interprets the important questions as those "that ‘go somewhere’ and address fundamental issues in the field of choice. I don’t think they all have to be ‘big questions’. I can give some good examples (bet we all could) of papers that made an impact but addressed basic research questions. " She goes on to provide an example, and the discussion continues.

How to be a success in science is another big question being discussed this week, initiated by Alexei Poliakov at the NatureJobs forum. Dr Poliakov disagrees with the position of Jonathan W. Yewdell’s articles in the May and June issues of Nature Reviews Molecular Cell Biology, opining that they advocate an adaptation strategy to preserve the status quo, rather than encouraging a more philosophical approach. Some of the scientists who have responded to Dr Poliakov enthusiastically endorse Dr Yewdell’s points, whereas others are less keen on them. The conversation continues, containing some pertinent opinions about survival and success for early-career scientists.

How many languages do you need for your job? Ai-Lin Chun, an editor at Nature Nanotechnology, writes: “Actually I do not speak 7 languages. I speak a total of 7 languages and dialects. So, it’s not as impressive as it sounds. I consider Cantonese a dialect but others might think otherwise. While language is not a requirement of a Nature journal editor (apart from being proficient in English of course), positions based in Asia or other offices where English is not the native language, it is a requirement and/or desirable to have these language skills. Almost everyone in our Tokyo office is minimally bilingual but most can speak more than 2 languages. These range from Korean, Japanese, Malay, Cantonese, Taiwanese to French, German and Spanish. It is indeed very enjoyable to be able to speak and understand a number of languages. For example, I’ve been able to translate questions from the audience into English during my seminars. In some cultures where English is not their first language, people tend to be a little shy. Being able to bridge this is very fulfilling for both them and myself.” Comments are welcome at the Nature Nanotechnology: Asia-Pacific and beyond forum.

Richard Grant initiates a lively debate about online videos: when they are useful, and when superfluous. Is it helpful to have video “tutorials” about basic techniques, such as cell culture, or is there no substitute for personal training? Opinions differ, as can be seen. One of the comments is by Moshe Pritsker, Editor of JoVe (Journal of Visualized Experiments): “is there anything in biology today that can be considered “basic”? Biological research is becoming more and more fragmented, and researchers become more and more focused on their specific areas. Typically, as I observed in many labs, a neurobiologist would not know how to do a Western blot, and a biochemist would not know how to perform a simple cell staining. These are very “basic” techniques.”

Previous Nature Network columns.


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