EditorialTen Simple Rules for Doing Your BestResearch, According to HammingThomas C. Erren*, Paul Cullen, Michael Erren, P...
ahead; they doubt it enough to notice         immersed in and committed to a topic,       with your colleagues is often wo...
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11 erren et al 2007 ten simple rules for doing your best research

  1. 1. EditorialTen Simple Rules for Doing Your BestResearch, According to HammingThomas C. Erren*, Paul Cullen, Michael Erren, Philip E. Bourne his editorial can be considered Rule 1: Drop Modesty the best physics ever. By turning theT the preface to the ‘‘Ten Simple Rules’’ series [1–7]. The rulespresented here are somewhat To quote Hamming: ‘‘Say to yourself: ‘Yes, I would like to do first-class work.’ Our society frowns on people who set problem around a bit, great scientists often transform an apparent defect into an asset. ‘‘It is a poor workmanphilosophical and behavioural rather who blames his tools—the good man out to do really good work. But you gets on with the job, given what he’sthan concrete suggestions for how to should say to yourself: ‘Yes, I would like got, and gets the best answer he can.’’tackle a particular scientific to do something significant.’’’professional activity such as writing apaper or a grant. The thoughts Rule 6: Work Hard and Effectively Rule 2: Prepare Your Mindpresented are not our own; rather, we Most great scientists havecondense and annotate some excellent Many think that great science is the tremendous drive, and most of usand timeless suggestions made by the result of good luck, but luck is nothing would be surprised how much wemathematician Richard Hamming two but the marriage of opportunity and would know if we worked as hard asdecades ago on how to do ‘‘first-class preparation. Hamming cites Pasteur’s some great scientists did for manyresearch’’ [8]. As far as we know, the adage that ‘‘luck favours the prepared years. As Hamming says: ‘‘Knowledge mind.’’transcript of the Bell Communications and productivity are like compoundResearch Colloquium Seminar Rule 3: Age Is Important interest. Given two people with exactlyprovided by Dr. Kaiser [8] was never the same ability, the one person whoformally published, so that Dr. Einstein did things very early, and all manages day in and day out to get inHamming’s thoughts are not as widely the ‘‘quantum mechanic fellows,’’ as one more hour of thinking will beknown as they deserve to be. By well as most mathematicians and tremendously more productive over adistilling these thoughts into something astrophysicists, were, as Hamming lifetime.’’ But, Hamming notes, hardthat can be thought of as ‘‘Ten Simple notes, ‘‘disgustingly young’’ when they work alone is not enough—it must beRules,’’ we hope to bring these ideas to did their best work. On the other hand, applied sensibly.broader attention. in the fields of music, politics, and Hamming’s 1986 talk was literature, the protagonists often Rule 7: Believe and Doubt Yourremarkable. In ‘‘You and Your produce what we consider their best Hypothesis at the Same TimeResearch,’’ he addressed the question: work late in life. Great scientists tolerate ambiguity.How can scientists do great research, Rule 4: Brains Are Not Enough, They believe the theory enough to goi.e., Nobel-Prize-type work? His You Also Need Courageinsights were based on more than fortyyears of research as a pioneer of Great scientists have more than just Citation: Erren TC, Cullen P, Erren M, Bourne PEcomputer science and brainpower. To again cite Hamming: (2007) Ten simple rules for doing your best research, ‘‘Once you get your courage up and according to Hamming. PLoS Comput Biol 3(10):telecommunications who had the e213. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030213privilege of interacting with such believe that you can do important things, then you can. If you think you Copyright: Ó 2007 Erren et al. This is an open-accessluminaries as the physicists Richard article distributed under the terms of the CreativeFeynman, Enrico Fermi, Edward can’t, almost surely you are not going Commons Attribution License, which permitsTeller, Robert Oppenheimer, Hans to. Great scientists will go forward unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and sourceBethe, and Walter Brattain, with under incredible circumstances; they are credited.Claude Shannon, ‘‘the father of think and continue to think.’’ Thomas C. Erren is with the Institute and Policlinic forinformation theory,’’ and with the Occupational and Social Medicine, School ofstatistician John Tukey. Hamming Rule 5: Make the Best of Your Medicine and Dentistry, University of Cologne, Koln,¨‘‘became very interested in the Working Conditions Lindenthal, Germany. Paul Cullen is with the Medizinisches Versorgungszentrum fur ¨difference between those who do and To paraphrase Hamming, what most ¨ ¨ Laboratoriumsmedizin Dr. Loer, Dr.Treder, Munster,those who might have done,’’ and he Germany. Michael Erren is with the Institute of people think are the best working Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine,offered a number of answers to the conditions clearly are not, because ¨ Westphalian Wilhelms-University of Munster,question ‘‘why . . . so few scientists people are often most productive when ¨ Munster, Germany. Philip E. Bourne is a Professor in the Department of Pharmacology, University ofmake significant contributions and so working conditions are bad. One of the California San Diego, La Jolla, California, Unitedmany are forgotten in the long run?’’ better times of the Cambridge Physical States of America.We have condensed Hamming’s talk Laboratories was when they worked *To whom correspondence should be addressed.into the ten rules listed below: practically in shacks—they did some of E-mail: tim.erren@uni-koeln.de PLoS Computational Biology | www.ploscompbiol.org 1839 October 2007 | Volume 3 | Issue 10 | e213
  2. 2. ahead; they doubt it enough to notice immersed in and committed to a topic, with your colleagues is often worththe errors and faults so they can step day after day, your subconscious has much more than a trip to the library.forward and create the new nothing to do but work on your However, when choosing yourreplacement theory. As Hamming says: problem. Hamming says it best: ‘‘So the lunchmates (and, by implication, your‘‘When you find apparent flaws, you’ve way to manage yourself is that when institution), be on your toes. Asgot to be sensitive and keep track of you have a real important problem you Hamming says: ‘‘When you talk to otherthose things, and keep an eye out for don’t let anything else get the center of people, you want to get rid of thosehow they can be explained or how the your attention—you keep your sound absorbers who are nice peopletheory can be changed to fit them. thoughts on the problem. Keep your but merely say ‘Oh yes,’ and to findThose are often the great scientific subconscious starved so it has to work those who will stimulate you right back.’’contributions.’’ on your problem, so you can sleep peacefully and get the answer in the AcknowledgmentsRule 8: Work on the Important morning, free.’’Problems in Your Field Funding. The authors received no specific funding for this article. It is surprising but true that the Rule 10: Leave Your Door Open Competing interests. The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.average scientist spends almost all his Keeping the door to your officetime working on problems that he closed makes you more productive in Referencesbelieves not to be important and not to the short term. But ten years later, 1. Bourne PE (2005) Ten simple rules for gettingbe likely to lead to important results. somehow you may not quite know what published. PLoS Comp Biol 1: e57. doi:10.1371/ journal.pcbi.0010057By contrast, those seeking to do great problems are worth working on, and all 2. Bourne PE, Chalupa LM (2006) Ten simplework must ask: ‘‘What are the the hard work you do will be ‘‘sort of rules for getting grants. PLoS Comp Biol 2:important problems of my field? What e12. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020012 tangential’’ in importance. He (or she) 3. Bourne PE, Korngreen A (2006) Ten simpleimportant problems am I working on?’’ who leaves the door open gets all kinds rules for reviewers. PLoS Comp Biol 2: e110.Hamming again: ‘‘It’s that simple. If of interruptions, but he (or she) also doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0020110you want to do great work, you clearly 4. Bourne PE, Friedberg I (2006) Ten simple rules occasionally gets clues as to what the for selecting a postdoctoral position. PLoSmust work on important problems. . . . I world is and what might be important. Comp Biol 2: e121. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.finally adopted what I called ‘Great Again, Hamming deserves to be quoted 0020121 5. Vicens Q, Bourne PE (2007) Ten simple rulesThoughts Time.’ When I went to lunch verbatim: ‘‘There is a pretty good for a successful collaboration. PLoS Comp BiolFriday noon, I would only discuss great correlation between those who work 3: e44. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030044thoughts after that. By great thoughts I 6. Bourne PE (2007) Ten simple rules for making with the doors open and those who good oral presentations. PLoS Comp Biol 3:mean ones like: ‘What will be the ultimately do important things, e77. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030077impact of computers on science and although people who work with doors 7. Erren TC, Bourne PE (2007) Ten simple ruleshow can I change it?’’’ for a good poster presentation. PLoS Comp closed often work harder. Somehow Biol 3: e102. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030102 they seem to work on slightly the wrong 8. Hamming R (1986) You and your research. In:Rule 9: Be Committed to Your Kaiser JF Transcription of the Bell thing—not much, but enough that they Communications Research ColloquiumProblem miss fame.’’ Seminar; 7 March 1986; Morristown, New Jersey, United States. Available: http://www.cs. Scientists who are not fully In our view, Rule 10 may be the key to virginia.edu/;robins/YouAndYourResearch.committed to their problem seldom getting the best research done because html. Accessed 24 September 2007.produce first-class work. To a large it will help you to obey Rules 1–9, and, 9. Erren TC (2007) Hamming’s ‘‘open doors’’ and group creativity as keys to scientific excellence:extent, creativity comes out of the most importantly, it will foster group The example of Cambridge. Med Hypothesessubconscious. If you are deeply creativity [9]. A discussion over lunch 2007 Sep 3: 17804173. PLoS Computational Biology | www.ploscompbiol.org 1840 October 2007 | Volume 3 | Issue 10 | e213

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