Some of the people I worked with have been a great inspiration for me. And overall, I really like to take a few steps back to think about how science works in general. The other day, trying to decide between which experiments to do first, I thought about what a great supervisor once told me: “The most important experiments are the ones you don’t do”.
In the same lines, Louis Armstrong once said that the most important notes were the ones he didn’t play; and Rodin said that the sculpting process was about removing the stone that was not part of the sculpture.
It is unsettling a first, but let me explain. In the case of scientific research, we all know that we have only limited amounts of time to discover new things, and make a point of it. Very often, I find myself in front of an ocean of possibilities, curiosities, and things that a want to try and test. One option to tackle this is to get students and let them help you. The other is to make choices, more or less rationally. Choosing, not what is the most important, and what is a bit less important, and leave it on the side for later. Only so that you uncover the main path, or the critical experiment. By the way, people now call this the “money experiment” or the “money figure”. Not sure I approve that appellation, but you get the idea.
Being in the second-half of a PhD means doing this on a weekly basis, and I sometime regrets early days of innocent and random wanderings trough experiments. I am a least grateful that my PI let me do that for a while, if only it could last a bit longer …