So today I did another first-ever for me; I presented and defended original work that I have produced – unique science, to my knowledge – to a panel of people significantly more qualified than myself. I have a bit of advice for any person who is starting an academic career; be they Masters, Undergrad, lower or higher. Take every opportunity you can to get people to criticize your work. Not only is it excellent practice for your career, but it’s the right thing to do as a scientist; the more criticism you address, the better your science is. Hence, the better you are. Anyway! Here’s a little more elaboration on the title of the post;
Today I presented original work to a panel of much more qualified scientists than myself. This was the first time in my career that I’d done so. Was it good? Damn straight it was! Was it the most terrifying experience I have ever undergone?
It was the most terrifying experience I have ever undergone.
Let me explain;
For me, science isn’t just a profession – it’s a passion and a way of life. My self-identity is based on the fact that I am first a scientist, and hence lots of other things. I’m also pretty good* at science. I like science because I find it fun. I like science because I get a sense of achievement out of the pleasure of finding things out. It’s great, and it’s what I basically live for.
* – (I’m not the best, but I don’t need to be the best. “Good” will do me just fine, as long as I’m doing the best I can possibly do. I digress.)
However, part of the scientific method is that all science needs a sanity check. All scientists understand that their work must be reviewed and accepted by other people; it is the job of the scientist to persuade other people that their work is correct. Should they be unable to do so, at all, they must either do better or accept that they are wrong (there is no middle ground). Hence there comes a time in each scientist’s career when they must show off their work for the first time, and submit themselves to a real grilling from their peers. Today, that is what happened to me.
The reason I find the process so terrifying is that my work (my job) is something I am utterly passionate about – I can’t become emotionally disengaged from it at all – so when I do work, I put my heart and soul into making it the best I can. When someone has to start bringing criticism against it – and I know they must – they are literally criticising me, as a person.
Don’t get me wrong; I know and accept that this must happen. I am entirely happy to show people what I do, and I want their criticism. I want it because it keeps me honest, it makes sure I am grounded in reality. It makes sure that I can be motivated to do science correctly, because I love science it would be utterly soul destroying to find that I have been doing it badly.
But that’s why I always feel like I am baring my soul when I present science; because I really am. It’s absolutely terrifying, and I don’t think that I will ever be used to it. But it’s right, and I get an incredible adrenaline high in the process.
I came out of the meeting utterly drained, but ‘victorious’ – I successfully persuaded ten CMOS sensor scientists that my work is scientifically valid and significant. I got lots of feedback to take away; improvements, changes, problems. All of them are good to have.
When I bare my soul, I know I bare it for a good cause – because not doing so would be against everything I am. Call me masochistic, but you can’t help the way you are.
Finally, a little thing that I think is relevant;
You don’t use science to prove you’re right. You use science to become right. – Randall Munroe
I am right because I force myself to be right, not because I force other people to think I am. Sure, I have to do something I find completely, paralysingly scary to do so, but that’s just par for the course. I love it.