Patience is a virtue – Learn to be patient

Aubrey de Grey – Patience is a virtue – Advice on how to learn to be patient as a scientist.

I’m not sure that your typical scientist has patience and determination to start out with.

When someone moves from an undergrad level to a PhD that’s the time that most people actually end up really have to face the innate frustration that’s inherent in doing science and a lot of people don’t like it so a lot of people drop out prior to that for that reason.

I think when I get people coming to me asking for advice about what to do I give a very different answer if they are asking me what to do at an undergrad level versus what to do at a Doctorate level.

For Undergrad levels I say: ” Don’t specialize too much”.

I say aging is a really tricky thing, it affects organisms at every level of organization you really need to be a genetist, cell biologist, a molecular biologist, a biochemist and a sociologist all in one.

But at the PhD level the critical thing is to be working in an area that you are really passionate about.

Don’t think so much about who you are working with or whatever, just work on what you’re really passionate about and the reason for that is if you don’t, you will get disillusioned and  you’ll grow to a stand still. You’re got to really want to be working in what you’re working in because bad things will going to happen. You’re going to have in general periods of maybe 6 months of being useless, when there is no progress. Now I personally had a very interesting situation that way. I got my PhD in a way that most people don’t essentially having written a book…

Marzena Kmiecik : What’s the book called?

That book was called the “Mitochondria Free Radical Theory of Aging” published in 1999 but previous to that between about 85 actually and 91, I had learnt how to do research, how to work on reality hard problems and I learned that in a rather unconventional way. Rather than doing PhD and being guided in this, I basically worked in a two men company that wasn’t really a company. The other guy was essentially doing contract programing to pay the bills which made me be a full time researcher but a researcher without a supervisor.

I was working in the computer science called Software Verification and it took me 5 or 6 years to get where I wanted to get with the work I was doing. That’s PhD kind of length, right?

I think I’m a very resilient guy emotionally but I don’t know how resilient. I don’t know whether I could have done that if things had gone non-uniformly well. In practice I kept making small but significant breakthroughs that reasonable frequency over the entire 6 year.

Marzena Kmiecik: Is that what you feel is the formula to keep everybody going?

It makes it a lot easier. The point is it’s unusual. I just got lucky that way. I could have had a period of 6 months in making interior progress and it could have destroyed me, could have disillusion me and I was gone back into doing tedious stuff right.

So most people don’t get that lucky, they need to be working on something they are really passionate about and they usually need guidance. They need a professor in charge of them who has been there himself.