Why you get annoying as you grow older

As a young Ph.D. student, I thought that my thesis supervisors were annoying. Looking back, ten years later, I think they were not nearly harsh enough.

  • I used to think that keeping detailed logs of what I have done was pedantic. As a young researcher or developer, I would just quickly jot down my ideas without looking back. I have since learned that this argument that seems so obvious to you now, may escape you a year later. You have to write a lot. All the time. As a side benefit, if you try to explain carefully what you just did, you often find out flaws faster. You also think better if you slow down.
  • The little things do matter. I used to believe that science was about the big issues. I could not be bothered about small details. I was so wrong! Science is about being anal retentive over little details. This off-by-one result may hide a significant result, or may confuse an eventual reader. You have to try hard to get everything right as early as possible.
  • Communication is 80% of the work. This may sound counterintuitive because most researchers only spend a small fraction of the time publishing or giving talks. But when they design experiments, or craft theorems, they are trying to make a point, to communicate an idea, to an imaginary peer. So, you have to design elegant experiments and theoretical results all the time. Hack all you want, but hack elegantly.

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