Nine times out of ten, “ego” is a dirty word—one used in the context of the pompous and the self-absorbed. Nonetheless, in the harsh world of science, a healthy ego is as critical as knowing how to integrate or do a titration. The right mindset makes the scientist, and part of that mindset is a sense of self, and a sense of confidence, that says, “I am capable of learning things no human before me has ever known.” To put this in context, walk a ways with me while I compare a graduate student to a secret agent:
The average graduate student can often feel as though their world is as labyrinthine and surreal as a Cold War spy’s. Every field has its integral tools and techniques. In the hard sciences, the most-frequently considered skills tend to be practical: perhaps aligning lasers, synthesizing compounds, or writing code. In the secretive and deceitful world of international espionage, these on-the-job skills are termed “tradecraft.” Unlike the skills of a scientist, a spy’s tradecraft comes down as much to mindset and habits as much as actual techniques.
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