Do you have what it takes to do research? Not just the insane passion, the flawless motivation, the mind-numbing hard-working endurance, the monomaniac nerdiness and all the other hard-to-find qualities related to the amount of effort needed to achieve something in this ultra-competitive world. No, I’m talking about intellectual capacities. Do you have them up to a sufficient level? Do you? And do you think I will give you ways of knowing? No, that was just a mean trick to get you to read this post.

I don’t really know what it takes to be a good researcher. Clearly, one has to be intelligent, but that would need to define intelligence and all the definitions I agree with exceed by far the domain of research. Plus, I know a few very good researchers whose intelligence I would not bet my life on… So yes, clearly you have to be able to grasp complex concepts and link dots even when connexions are not obvious. But there are other things; over the years, I have come to think that there are two ways of doing good research, and that most researchers are positioned along a gradient linking two broad qualities: rigour and creativity.

My personal experience convinced me that most of the best researchers out there are one of these two types. There are those that I call the Rigorous, the very quantitative types, juggling with equations and five-syllable words that I can’t even remember for this post. And there are those of the Creative type, who have very original ideas and twist studies in innovative ways you always wish you had the idea first.

Of course, I’m not saying that creative researchers have no quantitative skills or that rigorous researchers have no ideas. But in general, some are better at digging deeper and faster while some other will contribute more to science by going wider and in new directions. And both are needed, obviously.

All this to say that – in answer to a question over my blog – it doesn’t really matter if you think you are not creative enough, especially at the early stage of your carrier. Creativity is not something that will be obvious at the very beginning, and it is anyway not compulsory for doing good research, or even to regularly come out with new findings.

 2Scientists At which extreme would you put Walter Bishop?

Yet, with this metaphor, moving towards one extreme of this gradient pushes you away from the other one, and you can’t really have the right set of mind to think outside the box if you are overly methodical and thorough, and vice versa. So are you close to an extreme? Which one, more Rigorous? More Creative? Or rather, well balanced between the two?

But of course, I know in ecology some geniuses who mysteriously marry the two qualities to make the most elegant, exciting studies. And those make this post totally meaningless, thank you very much.

  1. Gaufrette says:

    And you, what type of researcher you think you are?


  2. Gaufrette says:

    Waw, a new type of researcher!


  3. Adm says:

    I wouldn’t put walter bishop in any of those extremes, first because that show is an offence to any scientifically minded audience, and second because he is not even a mad scientist. He’s a mad engineer.


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