Ten Simple Rules

Sometimes it is possible to distill wisdom into a set of byte-sized rules. Or so we have been thinking since long, the tradition going back, in some sense, to Moses. Among the most quotable of these (though the number is not ten) is Polonius’ advice to Laertes, perhaps the most singable, Paul Simon’s 50 ways… And surely, there are others.

In recent times, the Editors of the journal PLoS Computational Biology (thats the logo of their linking page) have been bringing out a number of such lists, among which are variously Ten Simple Rules forStarting a Company,  Getting Involved in Your Scientific Community, Teaching Bioinformatics at the High School Level, Developing a Short Bioinformatics Training Course,  Getting Help from Online Scientific Communities, Building and Maintaining a Scientific Reputation,  Providing a Scientific Web Resource, Getting Ahead as a Computational Biologist in Academia,  Editing Wikipedia,  Organizing a Virtual Conference—Anywhere, Chairing a Scientific Session,  Choosing between Industry and Academia,  Combine Teaching and Research,  Organizing a Scientific Meeting, Aspiring Scientists in a Low-Income Country,  Graduate Students,  Doing Your Best Research, According to Hamming,  Good Poster Presentation,  Making Good Oral Presentations, Successful Collaboration, Selecting a Postdoctoral Position, Reviewers, Getting Grants, Getting Published… The list will, we are told, go on.

I was recently at a meeting of the Department of Science and Technology’s Ramanujan Fellows, a group of gifted young scientists who have recently (in the last five years or less) returned to work in India after postdoctoral positions abroad. Most of them had spent a fair amount of time away from the country and had, to varying extents, become unfamiliar with how things work (or don’t) here. I was invited to share some experiences of a career in India with them, an assignment I had accepted somewhat hesitantly because hindsight is always 20/20, and often its not easy to share the travails of the path, which can seem rosier than it was. In the event, I didn’t wish to slip into anecdotage and thought I would share some of these Ten Rules, especially because I felt a resonance with them (the rules, that is). Those I chose to highlight in the talk were

  • Ten Simple Rules for Doing Your Best Research, According to Hamming by T C Erren, P Cullen, M Erren, P E Bourne, PLoS Comp. Biol., 2007
  • Ten Simple Rules for Building and Maintaining a Scientific Reputation by P. E. Bourne + V. Barbour, PLoS Comp. Biol., 2011, and
  • Ten Simple Rules for Aspiring Scientists in a Low-Income Country by E Moreno +J-M Gutierrez, PLoS Comp. Biol. 2008
The last of these hit a chord, especially in connection with the second. The mathematician (and computer scientist) Richard Hamming’s list is justly famous, and one that is worth recalling anytime. Anyhow, I picked and chose from this menu to come up with my ten simple rules for surviving in a harsh environment (which is what I subtitled my presentation). Here they are, with a short annotation (though I was much more discursive when I gave the talk, of course).
  1. Understand your Country, its social mores, its needs. We live in a complex country, and to succeed in science, its important to be socially at ease here.
  2. You Need Courage to Make the Best of Your Working Conditions. Power cuts, water shortages, poor infrastructure… Courage and a sense of humour will keep you going.
  3. Develop Endurance. Things do work differently here. Typically very slowly. And strange things can play a role in making things work (thats about as circumspect as one can get) so you need to be resilient…
  4. Work Hard and Effectively, and on Important Problems in Your Field. What’s the point, otherwise?
  5. Leave Your Door Open: Collaborate Locally and Internationally as well. This one is very important. Given the relatively few people in any field of enquiry, its almost a given that for most of us to survive, its essential to be open to others’ ideas and to be willing to collaborate. Closer is better, of course, but its also important to be internationally connected as well…
  6. Commit Yourself to the Education of Young Scientists. We really need more and more scientists in the country, and the only way its going to happen is if we see that more are created… The only way to do it!
  7. Write Research Grants and Publish in International Journals. Doing science is, in many ways, an international enterprise, and we need to keep international standards and benchmarks. And writing fundable research grant proposals, getting published in standard journals is one way of keeping a check on what we do.
  8. Do Not Ignore People. Thats why we do science in any case… There has to be a source of inspiration, and that can often come from others.
  9. Do Your Share for the Community: Teaching, Mentoring, INSPIRE-ing, whatever. It is important to give back, not just by transmitting information, but by guiding, sharing (through the INSPIRE programme is what I meant above, but more generally, of course).
  10. Appreciate Being a Scientist: A lot of people have put their faith in us. There are so few scientists in the country, and the investment is so large- to be a working scientist is a privilege. To be funded to do things that we find so enjoyable- it is not given to many, and its good to occasionally remember that…


2 thoughts on “Ten Simple Rules

  1. I like the principles you chose. And I also think it helps if some scientists find the time to nourish Indian science journals. Leaving all credible journal publishing to western business establishments does not seem to me to help the cause of balanced communication.

  2. There is a great news I would like to share with regard to future scientists and inspiring. We first year science students as Junior science club members are planning for a Science camp for high school students where we can arrange for some inspiring science talks by professors from our university to inform the students about the opportunities available in science and so on. Prof. K. P. N. Murthy has agreed for this and I believe that we can make this event successful. Let us hope for the best.
    – Ashwin.

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