Skills For Modern Scientists

A career in science is a multi-faceted one, but having any of these four skills in good measure is probably a good place to start!


AsianScientist (Oct. 9, 2015) – I was in language class the other week and the topic of the module was ‘careers.’ To get us into the theme and vocabulary, whoever wrote the textbook thought it would be a fun activity to make us complete a quiz to find the best career for us based on various skills and personality traits.

Imagine my surprise when it told me I should be a lawyer! My teacher made me read the personality description out loud, “…you are very motivated and like solving problems in the world.” Well, I couldn’t argue with that.

For a bit of fun, she made me read out the description for a scientist: “You are probably very shy and like to work alone.” WHAT?! THAT’S COMPLETELY WRONG!!! Since my teacher could no doubt see me winding myself up to deliver an impassioned but grammatically incorrect defense of what being a scientist is actually like, she deflated me by suggesting I write what kind of skills and personality traits one needs to be a Modern Scientist (what can I say? She’s had me for a few semesters). So here we go!

Social Butterfly

While I don’t doubt that there are many of us who are shy out there, the reality is the majority of Modern Scientists are masters of the social schmooze, and if you’re not, you soon will be. While the perception of scientists as the lone genius tapping away in the laboratory (probably in the dark) still exists in the general population, we all know that this is simply no longer possible.

Modern science requires a lot of teamwork—good luck trying to generate and analyse all your data without anyone else’s help!—and therefore a lot of socializing to find the people who can help form productive working relationships. Also, given the emphasis on conference attendance as a way of making these connections, the Modern Scientist can probably work a crowd with a great deal of finesse.

Public Speaker

On the topic of conference attendance and working crowds, the Modern Scientist knows that the best lectures to listen to are the ones where the speaker is clear, comfortable, and coherent. In the duration of a Modern Scientist’s career, you’ve probably not only presented your own work to your peers but also been required to teach classes, and we all know that there’s nothing worse than listening to a droning monotone for an hour or having to take a tutorial with dead, uninterested eyes staring back. All of this standing up in front of people and talking about a topic dear to your heart means that we are also pretty fantastic at delivering wedding speeches.


Most people would say people over the age of 18 don’t need a babysitter; most people would be wrong. The Modern Scientist has to spend a fair amount of time watching over others and making sure they don’t do something that might jeopardise their future existence.

If you’ve delivered Cell Biology 101 or any other lecture to over 100 first year students and tried to get them to listen, learn, and be entertained, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you’ve ever had to stop the intern from touching that brand new $2 million machine for fear that they might break it, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

But on the flip side, it can be nice to have a babysitter in the lab. If you’ve ever had to look at your supervisor with a sad face because you messed up an experiment while the one they did in parallel worked, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Black magician

Now, I’m not saying that Modern Scientists actually practise black magic, but the chances are that we all know someone who is capable of doing something no one else is ever able to master, meaning that we as a general population must have a few black magicians around.

That person who, when faced with an overwhelming amount of data that has probably already passed through the hands of other scientists, could make enough sense of it that it was actually published? She’s a black magician. The lab assistant who is the only one capable of doing that particular cloning and transfection combination is a black magician. The guy who finished his PhD in three years with three publications? Oh you know black magic was definitely involved there!

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Your average Modern Scientist is probably also has impressive word processing and photoediting abilities and incredible fine motor skills from all that pipetting or dissecting or machine-tweaking, not to mention being able to open bottles with one hand. Anyway, here’s to the multi-skilled Modern Scientist!

This article is from a monthly column called The Sometimes Serious Scientist. Click here to see the other articles in this series.


Source: Asian Scientist Magazine; Photo: Shutterstock.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

Alice Ly is a postdoctoral researcher in Germany. She completed her PhD at the University of Melbourne, and has a BSc in Pathology (First Class Hons) and BA (Art History). She enjoys microscopy, cakes, photos of puppies, and removing warm items from the incubator.

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