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Is research aptitude innate?

  1. Jan 19, 2008 #1
    dear all,

    i'm a student just amateurly exposed to research.
    what i want to know is whether research aptitude is innate or is it something that can be developed as one progresses in life?
    i ask this because, a few ppl that i recently came across proclaim that the reason they dont consider phd as an option is coz they arent 'phd material'.
    is there any such thing like that?
    from what i know about scientific research, i find it very interesting but i dunno whether i just know it superficially. since rite now i'm at crossroads faced with options of an industry job and university research, i want to make an informed decision. i'm afraid that i might not be 'research material' in the future..
    if one is dedicated and patient, is research 'failure-proof' ?

  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 19, 2008 #2


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    I think it's a little of both. Of course it is developed with proper training, but there are some aspects that just can't be taught. Things like creativity in developing well-grounded but novel experiments, or attention to detail. Those are things that people either seem to have or not have, and I've never found a way to teach it (though if others have suggestions of ways to teach those skills, I'd very much welcome the advice).

    Of course. Not everyone even wants to go through that experience. If you don't LOVE research, a PhD isn't for you. Some people just don't have that level of curiousity, or know they can't handle that level of coursework, or know they're a disaster in a lab.

    The best way to make an informed decision is to talk to both places you're applying for jobs, and the people who work there, and find out exactly what you'll be doing. Even if you choose one or the other, all industry research or all university research is not the same. Even if you ultimately choose academia, the work you're being offered in industry might be more applicable to your interests than the university research position, or vice versa. It's not about where you do your research, it's about what the research topic is about. Prior to a PhD, your skills learned in either setting will be fairly portable between either area...people in both settings need skilled technicians, for example, and someone who does well in either setting can easily get a job in the other, and the type of work will be similar. It's really only after you get a PhD that the two work settings start to differ in terms of what you can do with your degree and how much say others have about what you will do with your research directions and interests.

    No. There are always people who aren't successful in research regardless of their dedication. On the other hand, that doesn't mean one has wasted their time by getting a PhD. There are other career paths that can be followed, and if one is dedicated and patient and has at least some skill, even if not enough to succeed as an independent researcher, you will find that you are still employable, whether it's in industry in a lower position than lab head, or in academia as an instructor rather than researcher, or in some other field where you can apply your knowledge without needing the creativity to come up with new experimental ideas (i.e., editor for a scientific publishing company, scientific advisor in a law firm, etc.)

    The best advice I can offer, however, is that if you are uncertain about your desire to get a PhD, don't do it until you are certain. If you read some of the threads around here from people in PhD programs, you'll see that even those who were very certain start to question their sanity in that decision during the progress of grad school, so if you had any less of a certainty in your decision to pursue that degree, you'll find yourself constantly struggling to motivate yourself to complete the degree.
  4. Jan 19, 2008 #3


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    it is completely innate, either you have it or you don't.

    however, it seems everyone has it.
  5. Jan 19, 2008 #4
    The beginning was a desaster but with each lab internship I got a bit better at doing research.

    I certainly learned patience and attention to detail watching those damn crystals grow.
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2008
  6. Jan 22, 2009 #5
    Dear Friend,

    This is a very important question, esp. for present days because more and more students are opting for higher education e.g. PhD.

    I have done a bachelors degree in Electrical Engineering. I was interested in research in fundamental science from my high school days. Reading about life story of scientists and the fascinating concepts embedded in the biggest discoveries in science (in physics, chemistry, biology and mathematics) inspired me to get into teaching and research.

    I joined PhD research in a good laboratory. But here right from the begining, I felt that things were not matching up with my own ideas of research per-se.

    Slowly, after about 4-5 years in PhD, I realized, that what (generally) researchers do, was vastly different from *my* idea of research. Here, I must clarify, that at no moment I felt, during all these years, that I should not have joined research. I only felt that I need vastly different settings to do research according to my own ideas.

    This would be my suggestion to all students giving a thought to doing research, is, check by talking to people from both academia and industry R & D, that what is the NATURE of work they do. For example, ask them the details of the process of the work e.g. things about types of equations, plots, data, instruments, softwares, chemicals/materials they use, hours spent daily, visits to other laboratories, attending conferences, quality of leisure time, amount of reading , amount of hands-on work, role of the supervisor, basic format of research papers that they publish, average time to complete a project, frequency of paper publications, immediate societal applications of the work, whether the research is extremely generelized or fundamental or empirical or application-based, kind of job prospects with such experience, and etc.

    In my case, my idea of research was (and is) the philosophical studies of foundations of nature, society and thought. My idea of research is to publish monographs/small books, rather than research papers. My idea of research is to go through the think-read-think cycle and compile those thoughts into a small book or a paper. My idea of research is NOT to solve equation through computers, or to analyze data with computers, or do experiments with test-tubes, or use large instruments to study some object. My idea of research is NOT to publish average (or even supremely important) research papers in journals.

    My idea of research is to explore, analyze/syhthesize and generate fundamental, foundational and generelized IDEAS, and leave them to be examined by the general qualified audience (in the form of books/monographs/once-in-5years-papers).

    Thus, I felt the settings in which I was doing research, was not suitable to me. I left the setting and joined as a teacher in a college. But I did not leave the PhD. A teacher in a college has more liberty to pursue his/her own ways of "research"/creative activities, compared to a university professor or an institute scientist. The clause of "Publish ro Persih" does not apply, as strongly as others, to a college teacher.

    So, I shared with you my experience.

  7. Jan 22, 2009 #6

    Andy Resnick

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    The daily reality of doing research- performing measurements, troubleshooting failed experiments, analyzing data, etc. is learned and is part of graduate/postdoctoral training. The "meta" aspect to research- *which* experiment to perform, selection of the problem to be solved, choice of method to attack the problem- is also learned, but perhaps not as well taught. The inner drive to perform science- a sense of curiosity, the ability to perservere when the experiment failed 5 times in a row, etc. is, if not innate, then learned very early in life.

    I have seen a full range of students, and the students that we call "not PhD material" usually lack the curiosity. They need to be told what to do, rather than figure out what to do on their own.
  8. Jan 27, 2009 #7
    Well, I have a little take on "curiosity". My take just says that "curiosity" differes from person to person, and if the perspective of research, in which he/she is in, does not match that of the indvidual candidate, then there can be a major loss of curiosity.

    Every human being is curious- its biological, its embedded within us. Only thing that differs is *what* an indvidual is curious about.

    Although it may sound a bit funny, but an indvidual may be curious about something on which nobody gives a PhD or publishes "research" papers. Just to elaborate, journalism e.g. reporting in TV, magazines, newspapers is high-end research.

    In fact, every indvidual performs research every single moment- leading life is research in itself.

    Maybe many people will feel that this staement trivializes the entire issue. But, the I would ask them to go talk to people who have been in research for some significant time, and see whether they feel the same or not.

    That is, ask them whether they feel that the type and degree of "intellectuality" that is required in so-called "research"- whether that is same to what is required to lead daily life. Ask this to mathematcians, physicists, biologists, sociologists, engineers (but not to philosphers). and tell this forum what fraction of them say what I am saying.

    Whoever does this will make an important conrtibution to this forum.

  9. Jan 27, 2009 #8


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    I think you're confusing scientific research with investigative reporting here.

    The difference is that in scientific research the scientific method is applied, variables are controlled, results are subject to logical analyses and hypotheses are confirmed or denied in an arena without bias. (Or at least that's how it should work.) Through the rigors of this process, new facts are discovered.

    Investigative reporting on the other hand often relies on hearsay evidence, conjecture, and gossip. It is swayed by political pressure, personal opinions of editors, and dictated by what what will sell. Often it will present specific cases of a particular phenomenon that are not representative of the phenomenon in general. At best, it is collecting facts that already exist.

    A personal observation that I've made is that most people don't rigorously apply the scientific method in daily life - even scientists. I find most people develop a hypothesis based on observation, then collect facts which support that hypothesis and ignore those in conflict with it.

    The innate ability that I believe the orignal poster is asking about refers to the ability to asimilate available information, create testable hypotheses, and design viable experiments. Lots of people can asimilate information, and often this is the skill that we are rewarded for in school. The creative component is a lot more difficult to teach.
  10. Jan 27, 2009 #9


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    Well, in the worst case one can always do experimental biology which I think is failure proof - all one needs is natural stupidity.

    The difficult part in experimental biology is choosing a good question, which is a matter of taste, and is developed.

    There is also the question of the social/management structure allowing/preventing good work, but I'm sure that's present in all human endeavour.
  11. Jan 27, 2009 #10
    Your writing is atrocious. This isn't AIM. I would like to answer your question but I can't decipher your post. Take more care next time.
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