On Twitter this week, Elizabeth Sandquist, who describes herself as a biochemistry and molecular biology PhD student, proposed that "you can't just be good to succeed in #science, you have to be exceptional." Over at the Giraffes, Elephants, and Baboons blog, NeuroPolarbear says that, for the most part, "if you are smart enough to get into grad school, you probably have all the talent required to be successful in science." According to NeuroPolarbear, the single biggest factor in determining a scientist's odds of success is persistence:
There is a lot of rejection in science, a huge amount. I think getting 80 percent of papers rejected to the first journal you go to is not unusual. Having 80 percent of the data you collect the first time not work the way you expected it to is the standard. … If you have the kind of sunny personality that can bounce back quickly from rejection, that's a big help, and if you don't, it can be learned with some basic self-CBT [cognitive behavioral therapy].
And at his blog, The University of Texas-Pan American's Zen Faulkes echoes the importance of persistence, citing a recent PNAS paper in which Italian researchers analyzed how career uncertainty and other factors affect scientists' productivity. "The models indicate that as competition increases, many people can be taken out of the career pathway by blind, stinking, clueless, doo-da luck," Faulkes says. "Those that survive the field of bullets reach a point where they can start generating collaborative networks, and that builds even more success."
Further, he adds, being able to stick it out during the "early weeding out period … doesn't necessarily have a lot to do with your talent."