Young people interested in a scientific career should find something in nature that fascinates them, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, a 2009 Nobel laureate and researcher at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, tells the Guardian.
"Almost anything in nature, if you follow it, you will find a scientific problem," he says. "That is a better way to do it than following fads, because what is fashionable today may have been solved or fallen out of fashion once you have become a working scientist."
Ramakrishnan won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work elucidating the structure of the ribosome using X-ray crystallography. Ramakrishnan, who has a PhD in physics, tells the Guardian that he recalls reading an article in Scientific American about using physical techniques to study the ribsosome. "I was fascinated," he says. "I knew ribosomes were a big fundamental problem in science and this was a method for chipping away at it."
But taking on big problems requires a certain resolve, he cautions. "It takes a certain amount of courage to tackle very hard problems in science, I now realize," he adds. "You don't know what the timescale of your work will be: decades or only a few years. Or your approach may be fatally flawed and doomed to fail. Or you could get scooped just as you are finalizing your work. It is very stressful."