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Personality matters April 13, 2010

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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You probably think I’m going to write about how you ought to be nice and friendly in order to succeed in science. No, although help, I am going to write about how your personality shapes your science. Or rather, why so many scientists have similar personalities.

I am a very avid supporter of personality typing, such as Myers-Briggs. Over the years I have seen it explain a lot of how people behave and what different professions are like. The Myers-Briggs uses a lot of questions, a good one being well over a hundred, to see how you think and behave. These assess how outgoing you are, how detail or big picture your world view is, whether you rely on your brain or your heart, and other aspects of personality.

The one weakness, in my opinion, is that most people are to some degree schizophrenic, having a different personality within work areas than there general one. So if you’ve taken a Myers-Briggs and answered generally and not focused on your work thinking and behaviors, the result might not fit.

But I think people who are successful find that work as a niche that suits their personality, a comfort zone. Introverted people never go into things involving interacting a lot with the public – no sales job, waitering, cashiering, et cetera, except for temporary expediency….and they never do it very well. Highly detail oriented people make average scientists because they get bogged down in the hundredth iteration of variables or trying to look at every possible permutation. Repeating an experiment might mean doing it ten times or more.

Scientists fill in the blanks once they start seeing a pattern. Pattern recognition, multivariate analysis, and their kin are more precise and accurate ways of doing what a scientist inherently does when a system is simple enough to do it mentally. Three or four or five replicates is enough, depending on how precise you need. You can collaborate akin to a pack of wolves. Each can hunt and forage, but if they want to get a moose then numbers working together are needed. Each wolf is still a fairly independent individual once the moose is eaten.

Scientists have to be risk-takers, but not so much so that each experimental try is a foray into fantasy. We are not dreamers (that personality type goes into art or writing fiction). A scientist is not so tied into the here and now that experiments just are tweaking variables slightly – those people make good engineers. The world of science is infinite shades of gray, not black or white – those living in black and white become attorneys or accountants.

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