Monday, May 08, 2006

All about the Luck

I recently went to a couple of talks that ended up being interesting. One was a candidate interviewing for jobs, who said success these days is pretty arbitrary and depends a lot on luck.

The other talk I went to was by a young professor who is supposed to be a hotshot but who gave what I thought was a pretty bad talk- way too much information presented way too fast, and without much definition of all the jargon and abbreviations. So, precisely what my graduate school would not let me get away with doing. So I'm left wondering how this person is considered a hotshot, and why some people get away with being good at one thing or another, while other people are left feeling inadequate if we don't kick ass in all areas, all the time.

Then I talked to an old friend who recently got word that his grant is going to be awarded for twice as long as he expected. This friend works hard, loves science, and never asks big hard questions. Baby steps all the time, but very productive, cranks out lots of papers in respected but not high-profile journals. He works on stuff that I find incredibly boring, but I think that's part of the secret to his success: he's not threatening to anyone.

And I was a sports spectator this weekend. It was one of those things where the game was tied and nothing had happened for a long time, and my friend wanted desperately to go to the restroom. So just as we're getting up, somebody scores while our backs are turned and the game is over.

So, to sum up, I have bad luck, and what is considered good enough for other people doesn't work for me (just work hard, you don't have to excel at everything, and your stuff doesn't even have to be interesting).

I'm seriously thinking about looking into some voodoo hex-removing devices. Somebody gave me some sage to burn and wave around my house to get rid of the bad spirits, but I never did it. But I'm not sure my house is the source of my bad luck- it started a long time before I moved there.


At 4:48 PM, Blogger Milo said...

Honestly, a lot of life comes down to luck. No matter how hard to work at some things, it just does not matter.

Which, I must add, is a very scary thought.

At 7:12 PM, Blogger Abel PharmBoy said...

I had an ex-wife who used a Native American smudge-stick to purge her lab of evil spirits. She was disciplined by security at her company but she is now rid of me; or better, I am rid of her.

Follow your heart and mind. You are an excellent scientist who worries too much about others. Publish your stuff, move forward, and ask us old farts for help.

At 8:56 PM, Blogger Propter Doc said...

Please don't tell me I need luck as well! I'm a work-hard-get-rewards kind of person. If I need luck as well, then I'm going home right now. I quit! ;-)

At 9:13 AM, Blogger tortuga said...

My old PhD advisor was considered a big "up and coming bigshot." He always used all sorts of jargon when he gave talks. All the faculty were totally into him. I think they just didn't understand what he was saying so they figured he must be smart.

At 9:42 AM, Anonymous matt said...

I think that as much as there is a huge amount of luck in getting funded and published, the luck is really in what you have chosen to work on. I work in a field where if you put the viruses name in the title it seems to always get published no matter what. Where there are so many crappy papers on this subject getting published that it takes a bull dozer to push them aside to get to the good ones. And if that wasnt bad enough, the conclusions tend to be wrong, based on sloppy and fast science.
Now what is the solution. Working in this field do you publish the quick small baby step papers that are of little substance but you know will get published or do you hold onto the data until you get 1 really good solid paper. By the time you get all that data together you have to spend 2/3 of your paper refuting the other crap that has been published.
So as a post-doc, is it better to get 4 or 5 OK papers in a decent journal or get that 1 or 2 really solid papers, with basically the same data as the 4 or 5 above, in the same journal.
I am unfortunately leaning toward the former. Sometimes you have to give a little on the level of science you really want to publish at because the numbers game will bite you in the ass when you want a faculty job. I guess thats just the way it goes until you get established and you have time to be the big fish again.

Just my 2 cents.

At 9:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've done the sage burning thing to presumably get rid of bad luck. Just to warn you the smell is pretty awful. I've come to the conclusion that burning sage doesn't do anything except make you smell like you just smoked some don't burn sage before you go to lab!! I've done the throwing of holy water thing too...and that doesn't work. After much experimentation, I haven't found anything which takes away lab bad luck. Voodoo dolls are too scary for me so I'm not going there. I've Feng Shui-ed all I can on a grad school stipend and that hasn't worked either. Pretty much all my experiments of removing my own lab bad luck are unpublishable except in a blog...go figure...

At 4:20 AM, Blogger DrSiege said...

This doesn't really have much to do with your above post, but I've been reading the New York Academy of Science email alerts and I feel that you might have some interest in either attending or reading the results of some of their sessions.

For instance, here are a couple of links on how to do well in science.
link one
link two

There's also a science alliance for students and postdocs and a women's investigators network in which you might be interested.

At 9:42 PM, Anonymous Dr. Shellie said...

Yup, some hotshot famous people give awful talks. I think it's because hiring & promotion is based more on perceived hotshot-ness than ability to communicate clearly.

At 2:03 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

Dear Milo,

I agree.

Dear PharmBoy,

That ex-wife of yours sounds really scary. As usual I appreciate you saying I'm an excellent scientist, but you've never read any of my work! I don't take unfounded compliments to heart, but thanks for the sentiment.

Dear Propter Doc,

Sorry! I know exactly how you feel.

Dear Tortuga,

Thanks for the laugh!

Dear Matt,

I know, but I have a hard time writing OK papers and getting away with it. More likely I write an awesome, really solid paper that ends up in a less-than kickass journal...


Glad to hear I'm not the only one who has seriously considered it- and that it really is just superstition.


Thanks for the links! I knew about the Alan Lightman book but not the Peter Doherty one. I'll have to look more into the science alliance stuff when I have more time.

thanks everybody who commented...

At 10:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most clearing/cleansing techniques do require more effort than just lighting a smudge stick and waving it around. Attitude is important, and getting a spiritual connection to the earth (i.e., grounding) is important, too.

Try this:
Clear your mind. As thoughts come in, observe them as present, but don't get attached to them. Let them come in and go out.

Breathe deeply, from your belly instead of just your chest.

Feel a beam of light/energy that runs from the ground up through your feet and out the top of your head. Feel a similar beam coming in to the top of your head and going down through your feet.

When you have the connection, then ask that any outside energies and entities that may have attached to you, your lab, your home leave you and return to the Light and the Love. It often helps to ask this in the name of whatever you hold sacred, or the White Christ, the Buddha, Mary the Mother of God, Kuan Yin, etc.

I am fortunate that I usually will feel a physical change (tend to get shudders up & down my spine) when I ask for clearing. I hold the clearing and sending with love until the physical changes stop and a few moments beyond. I thank the Universe and further commit myself to the highest and best purpose and go on with life, trying to hold to the awareness of the moment.

At 10:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

btw, I (poster with suggestions on how to clear oneself) am not a scientist, but I do hold bachelors and masters degrees in mechanical engineering. Clearing oneself is not much different from choosing heat transfer coefficients in terms of explainability!

At 1:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the greatest lies people are told is that if you work hard and really care about something, you get where you want to be. Simply not true.

Luck and timing are important uncontrollable elements that can lead to success. Few people will admit that their success was due to something they had no control over.

Oh yeah, academic freedom is also another lie. :)

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Plugger said...

Positive Thinking as opposed to Negative thinking. Always remember that you can't change what happened today and you can't take it back but you can do better tomorrow.

At 5:41 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I know the bad luck thing real well... and it really does suck to not have control over it. I'm not a scientist, although I do love science. I'm a musician. I thinks its somewhere around 8 or 9 times I have lost ALL of my work. Computers randomly erase information, notebooks get lost forever, band members have incredibly life changing events and can't play anymore... lot of unlucky things.
Its not even just music, its every single facet of my life. I flipped a coin one day after a terrible bout of bad events, I didn't guess heads or tails right in over 1000 flips... I stopped then, threw the coin and yelled really loud, went inside and smoked a LOT of pot and fell asleep. I honestly think I have the worst luck in the world.
I'm not at all a superstitious person, and I don't believe in a higher power, but I do believe in the random chance that the events in a person's life *could* all turn out undesirable.
To top all of this off, I just got nailed in a random home invasion robbery, and the bastard shot me after I gave him all of my money (80 dollars). I had to get 2 toes amputated and will be on crutches for 6 months before re-learning how to walk. So, life very much sucks for some people, no matter how hard they try and how nice they are, and life totally kicks ass for some people that clearly don't deserve or even care necessarily care...
No real point to any of this post except to say thatnk you for letting me know I'm not alone in the bad luck thing. I was just googling 'how to get rid of bad luck' and this came up. So, thanx everyone, have a good day :-)

At 9:24 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

To the last Anonymous commenter,

Have you seen 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead'? Go rent it if you haven't.

That SUCKS about getting shot and losing your toes!

There are different ways of looking at this. One is that everything will balance out in the end, so you either have something great coming to you in this life or the next. If you believe in science at all, you might take comfort in equal and opposite reactions.

Another, perhaps more higher-power-ish than you're looking for, is that you're paying for the sins of your ancestors and need to have your karma cleansed. I can't say that meditating, etc. has helped me much karma-wise, that I can tell (yet?), but it does help me cope by searching for my inner peace rather than my outer achievements.

Hang in there.


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