Advice from Tamás Székely for young shorebird biologists

Thank you to Tamás for advice to those in our field. I find this to be applicable for research scientists in general and wanted to share. This is taken directly from his recent publication in supplementary material.

Ten pieces of advice for young shorebird biologists.

  1. Love what you are doing. Shorebirds are wonderful organisms and by watching their behaviour and studying their ecology and evolution, you not only do good science but also have fun. Scientists often contrast the SPECIES-focused research against the QUESTION-focused research: don’t buy this argument. It is false: you need both detailed understanding of the organism and good knowledge of the subject to make discoveries.
  2. Respect the organism you study and learn from them. The animals you study can teach you important skills. Open your mind, and watch and listen to what they say. Do not gloss over strange behaviours or weird features: there may be a good reason why the animals have these traits.
  3. Be driven by discoveries – remember the Szent-Györgyi quote above. Scientists often boasts about their achievements (e.g., how many papers they wrote, how much grant money they have, how often they are invited to conferences, how many students and post-docs they command): don’t buy these. The most important measure in science is discoveries.
  4. Be prepared to work hard toward an objective BUT keep your eyes open for opportunities. You need to find a balance between moving toward your targets and allowing minor detours that may eventually help achieve your goals.
  5. Failures can be important. “Success consists of going from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm” (Winston Churchill) – this is true in science. Learn from your own failures but do not take them too seriously.
  6. Admit your own weaknesses. No scientist is perfect. It’s true that some scientist knows more than others, although good scientists should know their limits of knowledge and skills.
  7. Never put all eggs in one basket; neither scientifically nor career-wise. Do have several irons in the fire: diversify. Working on a small number of topics will teach you new skills and ideas, and you might find that the knowledge in one field will help you solve issues in a very different field.
  8. Respect others but do not afraid of disagreeing over a scientific issue. Debates and arguments are part of scientific progress; don’t afraid of being wrong.
  9. Hard work, serendipity and curious naturalist – these are some of the main components of success in science. Research is rarely an easy ride to fame: there are lots of hurdles. Be aware of these hurdles, but don’t lose the objectives out of your sight.
  10. Remember, science is a network of people; you depend on other scientists, peers and junior colleagues at every stage. Even if you are a head of department or director of a research institution, you depend on others in many ways. You need to find a balance between fighting your way up the pecking order whilst en route not losing friends and colleagues. You need to respect your peers, whoever they are from the technician to the student to the administration. By respecting their work and their opinion it is then easier to find the balance between fighting and bonding.