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Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Student tip: Traits of a Good Student Researcher

Are there specific traits in people that lead to success in a research career?

My cousin asked me about what kinds of students do research and what traits make someone successful in the 'research line'. An important question, and one that any student considering R&D would (and should) ask herself. But frankly, I haven't been able to stereotype the type of students who do very well as compared to the students who don't do well. What I have seen is that most students have a mix of the following abilities:

Innovator (You like breaking things to find out how they work)
"You once put sodium metal into a water filled petri dish and delighted in the aftermath, you made paper aeroplanes out of your language composition notebooks, you have a Linux OS partition on your home PC, your idea of a news website is, you are the in-house geek, your folks bought you Lego Technik sets for each Christmas since you were 5 and you always made something completely different than the model the brochure suggested."

Driven Hard worker (You are the human incarnation of an industrious ant)
"You are honestly hard-working, you are disciplined enough to see the sun rising occasionally, you solve each problem at the end of each text book chapter and go ask your professor or TA about the ones that you cannot solve, you love extra-credit problems, you have tried to read your professor's research paper (perhaps without understanding it), you type and print your homework assignments (including equations), you buy your subsequent semester books in Christmas break and then try to read these books over the Christmas break."

Whiz kid (you are an alien-like prodigy)
"You represented your country in the International Math Olympiad, you have a perfect GPA, you are in line to get the president's gold medal at your college commencement ceremony, you can compute the 17th root of Pi in one second, your professor uses your homework assignment submission as the homework solution sheet, you landed a Fulbright scholarship, you won the spelling bee competition, and you think about Extreme value theory whenever you hear about the stock market."

Don't really know (you are a normal John/Jane Doe)
"You don't fit into any of the above categories because you never thought about all the stuff mentioned up there, you simply don't care about who you are because your Facebook profile answers that question about you, you are always something of everything but not not really a lot of something, you haven't decided your major, you have a good GPA, a good understanding of your courses, a good desire to work, but the keyword is decent and not flamboyant."

Its important to remember that these traits are not orthogonal to each other, in fact success seems to come easier to those who can combine innovating, working hard and thinking smartly rather than just 'specializing' in one of these traits. Also important is the 'don't really know' category - because building a successful career requires networking and people skills - both of which depend on other non-research folks not binning you into one of the first 3 categories.

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