How to be a successful research scientist

Research scientist

Professor Darren Griffin is Professor of Genetics at the University of Kent. He runs a lab researching human fertility, birth defects and genome evolution, and a Masters course in reproductive medicine. Here, he gives his top tips for getting involved and flourishing in research.

I have supervised medically trained people in my lab many times and, I have to say, all fare far better than I ever would in the clinic. It's very hard to generalise but, on the whole, I find their work ethic and presentational ability exemplary – great traits to have as a scientist.

Keep in mind, however, that manual dexterity is essential in the lab and remember that you're starting from scratch in a whole new environment. Doing something out of your comfort zone (and it will be) can be a highly rewarding experience but just remember, for a little while you'll be the new kid at school.

The only way to do good research is to get on with it. There's really no advantage in having good ideas if you don't put them into action. You must be prepared to apply the same work ethic as you would in the clinic and put in the hours in the lab.

Be prepared to seize every opportunity. Research is all about finding what is new and exciting. It may not be the structured, clinical world that you're used to. Research projects rarely take you where you expect.

With good people, you can do anything. Interacting with my colleagues is one of the most rewarding aspects of my work.

Research is about imagination and ideas. A certain level of knowledge is essential, but you can always look up anything you don't know. Think about the process of coming up with new ideas, drawing on the talent of those around you for inspiration.

Consider what you can offer. Why should I, or any other academic, take you into my research lab? I can give you the germ of an idea, the infrastructure and the benefit of my experience. What can you give me?

Successful research is often more about timing than resources. It's a popular misconception about research that you just throw money and lots of people at an idea and it will work. Not always true. You need to shoot at the right time to hit the target.

If the system doesn't work for you, change it or do something else. If you think something can be improved, be proactive and decisive in changing it.

Don't ask why, ask why not. Don't take no for an answer, because every no is one step closer to a yes.

The journey can be as rewarding as the destination. Remember to enjoy the ride. It's such a wonderful thing, being a scientist, because you're in the process of discovery. It's a lot of fun, so enjoy it.

Be nice to people. I think this is ultimately most important – not only because it's the right thing to do morally, but also because you never know when someone will have something that you want. They might return the favour you once did them.

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