Posted in Ethics, PhD life, Tips, Web 2.0
Social networks are everywhere. Personally I like Facebook to keep track of old friends and add new ones. These friends are mostly of nonscientific background. Until recently I had never realized the importance of social networks in science. When you do your PhD and perhaps some postdoc projects here and there, it is hard to think about what it takes to become a successful scientist other than doing brilliant science. Although scientific skills are undoubtedly important, I believe that one of the key ingredients which can make or break a scientific career is a good network of friends.
Networks form the basis of the scientific community and as such are essential for providing a backbone and coherence to international research. Getting known in a field involves being on good personal standing with some of its key players. A lot depends on people willing to add you to their citation list and to invite you to a conference. Many times, friends arrange seminars and visiting professorships and set up international research networks.
Friends can also be absolutely crucial in peer review. In practice, everything ranging from grants, publications, to quality of research, is being evaluated by peers. Whatever can be said about the peer-review system, fact is that these are the only people who can actually judge the scientific merits of your work. I am in favor of peer review as long as the integrity of peers in giving an unbiased judgment can be guaranteed. Hopefully some of these peers will even be able to recognize and evaluate non-measurable quantities such as creativity, originality, and leadership potential. As an example of the positive impact of friendly peer reviewers I recall a time during my PhD that a publication was accepted by PRL because of two friendly referees with endless patience and constructive criticism. I still am grateful to those people, who both of them approached me at a conference later on. Fact of life is however that a referee will always be able to find a weak spot and destroy your chances if he feels like it or it is in his own interest.
It is impossible to assess how professional friendships impact scientific success because many of this takes place outside of plain view. Perhaps the suggestion that some help in the right places affects the outcomes of the scientific process is enough to stir up some responses from the reader. It will be easy to backfire my argumentation by saying that only the weak scientists need friends like this. However, as an observation, I believe that many younger scientists underestimate the power of networks in science, and how important it is to have good contacts. Probably this misconception results from the idea that networking is an activity associated with business people and not with scientists.
The younger generation of scientists and postdocs however more and more get connected through socal networking sites. I very much welcome this development as I believe that we should support each other as much as possible in achieving scientific success. Perhaps one day it will pay off to be connected on LinkedIn even for a scientist.
Niceness is inherent to being a good scientist