Saturday links: how to be a productive researcher (?), and more

Jeremy says: I’m back from seeing family members I hadn’t seen for 18 months. 🙂 Here are a few things that caught my eye when I returned.

From Jeremy:

Will you be more productive as a scientist (or an artist), if you first explore diverse topics or styles before narrowing your focus? A new unreviewed preprint says yes. I haven’t read it yet, so have no opinion on its claims. Just passing it along in case you want to read and evaluate it yourself, because it sounds interesting. One (obvious) question I have is about separating correlation from causation. For instance, maybe whatever it is that causes some scientists and artists to have periods of extraordinary productivity also causes them to explore diverse topics or styles early in their careers? I had the same question about this new paper arguing that world class athletes don’t specialize as early in their lives as do athletes who only ever become national class. Maybe it’s not that postponing specialization causes you to later become world class once you do specialize. Rather, maybe it’s that world class athletes can put off specialization for longer, without risking their potential to eventually achieve world class performance in whatever sport they end up specializing in. If you’re a Bo Jackson-level athlete, maybe it’s not that (say) playing football as well as baseball makes you better at baseball once you eventually decide to specialize in baseball. Rather, it’s that, if you’re that good of an athlete, you can play both baseball and football at a very high level without having to specialize in either. Anyway, half-baked analogies between these studies, and Rich Lenski’s work on the evolution of evolvability, are left as an exercise for the reader.

If you’re an academic researcher, does it help your productivity to have face-to-face collaborators? Does it matter how productive those face-to-face collaborators are themselves? Here’s an interesting blog post review of the data, much of which comes from studies of evolutionary biologists. Not sure I’d draw any strong conclusions, for two reasons. First, existing research on this topic doesn’t try to estimate the importance of face-to-face working group meetings. Second, because I’m not clear if existing research allows for the fact that face-to-face collaborations often pursue different kinds of research than other sorts of collaborations do (e.g., working groups writing review and perspective papers, vs. face-to-face collaborations collecting their own data).

Next figure out a way to output graphs as HyperCards. 🙂

And finally, here’s a lovely folk song, putting to music what Charles Darwin might’ve felt as he set off on the Beagle voyage:

Have a good rest of your weekend. 🙂

4 thoughts on “Saturday links: how to be a productive researcher (?), and more

  1. For me, I am most productive over the long haul when I realize it’s time to step away from either my work in science or my passion as a musician. I’ve taken extended breaks from both professions over the past couple of decades.

    Creativity & productivity rely upon a purging of overloaded circuitry in the frontal lobes on a regular basis. I did not understand that during the first half of my careers.

    • That’s an interesting idea. I have stepped away from music and am now experiencing a great deal of creativity in visual art. I still think a lot of the reason my music got stale was that I no longer have musical collaborators, so I’m rehashing the same old stuff. But it’s interesting to consider that I also just need to think differently for a while. And I do find that working on art can help boost my mathematical creativity.

  2. Perhaps every hobby will boost creativity in your job, just because it takes your mind away from your job, but I also experience that being creative in one field seems to make me more creative in another. Please forgive me, but I just can’t resist posting a link the EvoBio Song that my students and I wrote and performed two years ago with our band “The Happy-Face Spiders” (which has been dormant now because of covid-19) at the 2nd annual meeting of the Netherlands Society for Evolutionary Biology:

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