Here is a snippet from the book, Advice for a Young Investigator, which is written by Santiago Ramón y Cajal(1852 – 1834) who was a Spanish histologist, physician, pathologist and Nobel laureate.
Here is another concept often heard from the lips of the newly graduated: “Everything of major importance in the various areas of science has already been clarified. What difference does it make if I add some minor detail of gather up what is left in some field where more diligent observers have already collected the abundant, ripe grain. Science won’t change its perspective because of my work, and my name will never emerge from obscurity.”
This is often indolence masquerading as modesty. However, it is also expressed by worthy young men reflecting on the first pangs of dismay experienced when undertaking some major project. This superficial concept of science must be eradicated by the young investigator who does not wish to fail, hopelessly overcome by the struggle developing in mind between the utilitarian suggestions that are part and parcel of his ethical environment (which may soon convert him to an ordinary and financially successful general practitioner), and those nobler impulses of duty and loyalty urging him on to achievement and honor.
Wanting to earn the trust placed in him by his mentors, the inexperienced observer hopes to discover a new lode at the earth’s surface, where easy exploration will build his reputation quickly. Unfortunately, with his first excursions into the literature hardly begun, he is shocked to find that the metal lies deep within the ground–surface deposits have been virtually exhausted by observers fortunate enough to arrive earler and exerecisetheir simple right of eminent domain.
It is nevertheless true that if we arrived on the scene too late for certain problems, we were also born too early to help solve others. Within a century we shall come. by the natural course of events, to monopolize science, plunder its major assets, and harvest its vast fields of data.
Actually, all I want to say is written up there. However, I wish to make some comments about his book. First of all, I haven’t finished it yet, but I couldn’t help writing about it here. The book was written in 1897 and revised four times. It is good to point out that some remarks might be a little offensive to some people. However, it is quite understandable due to the era it was written. More importantly, the context of his book should be taken into account. Although its last edition was released around a hundred years ago, many things remains to be exactly the same for young scientists. It is so real and he gives the kind of advice that you might be looking for. He even talks about writing scientific papers in one of the chapters in the book.
This book helped me to revise my expectations from research and to determine my state in the process. It showed me not only I am not alone on this path, but also I am actually one of the many current and past researchers in the world. Moreover, hearing these advices from a successful scientist is significantly influential as opposed to hearing from other people who are not necessarily close to research although they are actually parallel. I think one of the main attributes Cajal is one step ahead of many other scientists is that he wanted to share how he pursued his research in addition to what he achieved. In some sections, he gives even a detailed methodology to start a research process and assess it afterwards. It is quite amazing to see how generic and well-written those parts are which let you apply to your research regardless of your field.
All in all, I am looking forward to finishing this book. I might update this blog post afterwards and place some additional remarks, but I believe I have read enough to recommend it to any other young investigators, scientists like me.
p.s. Thanks my friend who recommended this book to me.