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A few tips on becoming an “expert” March 10, 2009

Posted by fetzthechemist in Careers.
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OK, so I have commented on expertise and being an expert as far as what qualifies. To recap, it is not self-recognition. Doing something, like running an HPLC analysis, does not make you an expert. It makes you an “operator” or proficient.

An expert is someone who knows the theory and practice of an area, the whys and hows of doing it. They are a source of knowledge, “expertise”, for most other people doing that kind of work. A real expert becomes recognized as so by others and as this expertise grows, the expert becomes a “big name” in that area – publishing, speaking, chairing sessions at meeting, and so on.

So how does one get there? If you are doing something, first learn all that you can about the history and theory of it. Why do you do it a certain way? How will changing things affect the result? What are the common errors and problems? What theories back up the practice of doing it? This gives you the fundamental foundation.

Next (or somewhat concurrently), read the current literature. What is being done now that is novel? If you have a good foundation, you will start seeing opportunities – areas in the papers that could be made better or different applications. Contact the authors with your ideas. Many times they will either say “We are doing that now as the next step” )since there is a hysteresis between doing and publishing) or “We tried that and here’s what happened and why it did not work.”

Sometimes, however, you will get either an opportunity to collaborate or an invitation to do that idea yourself, “Great idea! Good luck in trying it.” these sharing of ideas gains you visibility and possibly new research and publications. It has a built-in peer review at its beginning.

Publish, review, speak, chair – get your work and yourself visible. The reviewing and chairing are often thought of grunge tasks, but they need to be done by someone. Being available gets you some notice and you network through these.

Take the time to study more than the run of the mill. There are thousands and thousands of average papers. Think, plan, and do more than just what is adequate. Do the extra permutation or variable or replicate that others are not doing.

Recognize both your peers and those you consider experts. As their opinions and guidance when you need it. Mentors are often easier to find than most people think. They just do not look or ask.

Diversify your interests! Look for niches or areas in other fields where your current expertise will be new and useful. Do not pen yourself into any technical area. Look for interesting and fun projects in other area. That will allow you to see more opportunities. If nobody is doing something, do it yourself. Acquire the material, equipment, and skills to fill in the gaps – relying on others for parts of your own research can lead to bottlenecks.

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