The Value of “Wasting Time”

Science magazine this week published an article entitled Advice to a Young Scientist. There were some encouraging words from the Pedro Miguel Echenique in this regard. A lot of career advice nowadays is really geared towards what I often refer to as “careerism”. This is the kind of advice that emphasizes ones career, but is not directly related to improving oneself scientifically.

This article highlights five points that are infrequently discussed when it comes to scientific career advice. I point out the two that are the most rarely stressed:

1) Learn Broadly: Many times, a student of science gets pigeonholed in one particular aspect of a field and cannot see the broader picture. Studying different aspects of one’s scientific discipline (or even outside that) can help open one’s eyes to other avenues of interest and also help frame one’s own work within a larger scientific context.

2) Allow Yourself to Waste Time: The point is made in the article that one should chat with one’s colleagues, enjoy a tea or coffee break, and attend seminars to stimulate one’s mind. In my own experience, talking to other scientists has been a large part of my personal scientific development and has also taught me where there are gaps in my knowledge that need to be filled.

I appreciate Echenique’s sentiment on these points, as this kind of career advice is rarely given out. Sometimes, aspects of careerism can be important, but few things can replace good scientific development and curiosity.

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