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Ten Simple Rules to Win a Nobel Prize

Undoubtedly, there are too many people walking on the way of pursuing the Nobel Prize. Some of them are young scientists, writers, students, and even the senior scientists. A "Nobel Prize" shows too many temptations for them, as to some extent the Nobel Prize represents the greatest honor for a scientist. By planning their academic careers, some believe that they will be finally able to reach the podium of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. But is there no any secret weapon or shortcut?

Richard John Roberts, the British scientist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (with Phillip Sharp) in 1993 for work on gene structure, gives his views. He believes that the most important thing is, “ Never Start Your Career by Aiming for a Nobel Prize”, the first rule in “Ten Simple Rules to Win a Nobel Prize”.

Scientist Richard John Roberts

Scientist Richard John Roberts

1.Never Start Your Career by Aiming for a Nobel Prize

The opening of the "Nobel Secret", is "Don’t even hope for it or think about it." Just try your best to do scientific research, ask good questions, make efforts to answer them with innovative methods, and look for those “strange” results because maybe it opens the door to a new world. If we are lucky, it is possible to put forward a "big news", and you might even have one or two awards. Then if, you are extraordinarily lucky, maybe you’ll have chance to get a Nobel Prize. However, Roberts believes that luck is such a thing, “They are very elusive”.

2.Hope That Your Experiments Fail Occasionally

In general, there are two main reasons why experiments failed. The first is because you messed up the design by initially not thinking hard enough about how to do experiments. Perhaps more often, you might mix the reagents, or sometimes you are not careful enough in performing the analytics. These problems are the easiest to deal with, as you just need always particularly care about designing and executing experiments. But if you still fail, you can repeat it and do it again until it succeeds.

Interestingly, the another reason that your experiments fail is because nature is trying to tell you that the axioms on which you based the experiment are wrong. At this time, if you're lucky enough, you'll think about whether the dogma is out the problem, then design more experiments to find out why. Then if you are lucky enough to be able to prove the dogma is wrong, you’ll be closer to the Nobel Prize.

3.Collaborate with Other Scientists, but Never with More Than Two Other People

Sometimes cooperation is not only beneficial for the experiment, but also makes it fun.  By combining different expert wisdom to bear on a problem, it might really make a big discovery. But why not more than two partners? That is because “if you think you are getting close to a big discovery, always keep in the back of your mind that there can only be three winners on the ticket for a Nobel Prize.”

So, remember to pick up your collaborators carefully! But seriously, “don’t do as some have done and try to make a competitor of someone who would otherwise be an extremely valuable collaborator.”

4. To Increase Your Odds of Winning, Be Sure to Pick Your Family Carefully

So far, seven children of Nobel Prize winners have gone on to win the Prize themselves, and four married couples have jointly won the Prize. For example, Marie Curie and her husband Pierre, won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903, and their daughter Irene with her husband, Frederic Joliot, won the 1935 Nobel Prize in chemistry.

During the 113-year period, there are a total of 586 Nobel Prize laureates and more than 10 billion of the population on the planet. The Nobel family is still very important to increase your chance. By the way, “ this rule is vividly illustrated last year (2014) by another married couple sharing the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.”

5. Work in the Laboratory of a Previous Nobel Prize Winner

Sometimes working at an institution with a previous Prize winner can be helpful. Many Nobel Prize winners have benefited from this rule, such as the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Cambridge University in England, where no less than nine staff members have won Nobel Prizes in either Chemistry or Physiology and Medicine. Among them, Daniel Fry De Geer (Fred Sanger), even won the Chemistry Prize twice (1958, 1980), once for inventing protein sequencing and once for pioneering DNA sequencing. In fact, he also invented the RNA sequencing, but has not won the Nobel Prize, as “Perhaps three Prizes was more than the Nobel Committee could stomach.”

6.Even Better Than Rule 5, Try to Work in the Laboratory of a Future Nobel Prize Winner

This can be very useful, particularly if you can enter such a laboratory and is involved in a Prize-winning discovery. This has proven to be a very good strategy, but the question is it’s not always a easy thing to find the right mentor, one who will bring you that sort of success and is also willing to share the glory with you.

However, Richard J. Roberts also reminds you, that “ the corollary of this strategy is not to work in the laboratory of someone who has already won but whom you think will win again with you on the ticket. ”, because “this has yet to prove successful based on the previous double recipients named in Rule 5! ” You also need to make sure that any major finding comes from you after you leave the lab and are out on your own.

7.Always Design and Execute Your Best Experiments at a Time When Your Luck Is Running High

Soon, an informal survey will be given to this conclusion: luck is the biggest factor for Nobel Prize winners to get the Nobel Prize. Probable cause is that many discoveries arise when our generally accepted theory proved to be wrong, but we also insist on experiments based on incorrect assumptions. However, only rarely are we lucky enough to decisively abandon the accepted theory and make major breakthrough in science. Such dramatic changes require not only courage, but also need luck.

8. Never Plan Your Life around Winning a Nobel Prize

This has been proved to be disastrous mistake for many people. Some people believe that they are going to win so they prepare for all sorts of plans: they plan their award speeches and comments for journalists, etc. Some is even more outrageous, they send their last year’s publications along every year to the Nobel Committee, as a reminder for the Committee for their “big” discovery.

Just focus on doing the very best science that you can. “It is far better not to know you have been nominated so that it comes as a real surprise when you get the early morning call from Stockholm.”

9.Always Be Nice to Swedish Scientists

Several laureates won their awards severely delayed due to picking a fight with the wrong opponent. Because no one would know that the person you challenge already entered the Nobel Committee, or became a member of the Committee after a fight. Peyton Rous is a good example, he waited from 1911 until 1966 for the Medicine Prize, a half a century—four years before he died.

Relatively speaking, this rule is too easy. Roberts believes the majority of Swedish scientists are amiable, very easy-going, and with great spirit of cooperation, in particular, many of them can become very good drinking partners. It is also never too early to get started on this.

10.Study Biology

Why students matter? Too many reasons.

First, the biology is very fascinating and related to our daily life, but there are still too many things unclear. Thus, the probability of making a big discovery in the field of biology will be much larger compared to other disciplines. Moreover, biology contains too much content, and it is easy to accidentally enter a new world, a new interdisciplinary, which can be very interesting.

Second, unlike physics or chemistry, the biology is always changing. “ What seems to be the rule today may have changed by the time you are doing your experiments.” Finally, there are two biological related Nobel Prize categories, that is the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, of which half are sent to biologists, increasing your odds by 50%.

In conclusion, Roborts points out that Rule 1 is the most important and the best advice he offered. “ Even Marie Curie, John Bardeen, and Fred Sanger needed this to win their second Prize.” The other nine, can help somewhat, even if it did not help, it can be regarded as interesting opinion.

Edited by cdblog.

Source: Ten Simple Rules to Win a Nobel Prize, by Richard J. Roberts, Plos Computational Biology

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