Outliers (successful people)

I was visiting Buenos Aires for a few weeks. I had two flights lasting more 12 h and took advantage of the time to read a very interesting book. I am no expert on the subject, and the book is written for general public by a reporter. Following what, I think, is a common approach in humanities, the text is structured around case studies of the careers of well-known successful people like Bill Gates and obscure unsuccessful people who had all the features that are usually assumed to lead to success in business, science or arts. The book is very well written and engaging, but in a way that encourages the reader to think and reach his/her own conclusions before the author reveals his own ideas.

The overall message is that the circumstances allow the outliers to achieve success. That because of the way teaching, sports, and other activities are scheduled and  organized things as simple as the birth date can constrain in what activities we can be successful in.

The interesting message is that in many cases simple changes to how we select students, teach, etc. could improve the chances for more people to succeed in life. This made me ponder about my own career path and reinforced my view that I am where I am because of taking advantage of the opportunities that came along the way rather than by having had a well defined career plan from the very beginning.

To some extent this book links to the my earlier post on career paths and specialists vs. generalists.

The full reference to “Outliers” is:

Gladwell, Malcolm (2009) Outliers: the story of success. London New York: Penguin Books, 320 pp, ISBN 9780141036250.

An interview with Prof. Jorge J. Casal

In the interview Jorge has several insights about his career path and also advice for early stage researchers. I have been Jorge’s friend and collaborator for more than 30 years, and been a witness of how he has followed since he was an undergraduate the path he now gives as advice in the interview. The result has been a successful career doing very original research.

“Flow”, success and hapiness

Yesterday after our Biophilosophy Society session, I had an interesting chat with Matan about whether switching research subjects is good or bad.

Today, just by chance I ended watching this video from 2008. I think it nicely answers what we discussed. NOW WATCH THE VIDEO… (19 minutes long, but really worth your time)

Only after watching the video, you will understand what follows:

If you you feel that the field your are working on, does not provide enough of a challenge to get you into ‘flow’ at least now and then, then you have two options: find new challenges that you find exciting within your current discipline, or shift your interests to another discipline. Which of these routes you take, is quite irrelevant as long as you can reuse enough of your current skills in the new subject to be within your safe zone of comfort. Reusing the skills does not require the skills to be used in the same way as in the previous discipline, just that you find a way of making use of your skills even if by analogy when analysing a new problem.

I am currently participating in the “Leadership training” organized by the university, and in one recent meetings of my research group when discussing how to better work as a group, I emphasized that for every member of the group their work should be fun. This idea is formalized, and backed with data in the talk in the video I embedded above. So, if you skipped it, scroll up the page and watch it!


PDF files from my recent talks

Some of you have missed my talks on statistics because of other meetings and a retreat. If you would like to have a look at the presentations, they are now available on.line, together with another couple of talks on LEDs and research on plants’ responses to UV radiation that I gave recently at a conference and at a seminar. You can access them from the SenPEP’s website in the NEWS section.