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.

Published by

Daniel Lemire

A computer science professor at the Université du Québec (TELUQ).

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