I am continuing my blogging series on why grad school sucks. This series has only had one entry so far, in which I talk about how bad physics talks are, and how this worsens impostor syndrome. Today I will talk about how scientific success is based on luck.
If you have ever read any popularizations of science, you’ve likely heard that many scientific discoveries are made by serendipity. This makes sense, because if a discovery isn’t a big surprise, then it’s not much of a discovery, is it?
We have one of these stories in the field of superconductivity too. Kamerlingh Onnes is credited with the discovery of superconductivity in 1911. But that’s not what his work was really about. His real accomplishment was being the first person to liquefy helium. He just tried cooling a bunch of things, and that’s how superconductivity was discovered. That’s serendipity! Kinda?
The thing is, serendipitous discoveries might make for a fun story, but it’s garbage to actually live through. If you go to grad school, will you hit upon something truly interesting? Or will you just produce a bunch of unremarkable studies that nobody cares about? Nobody knows! But your career success depends on it!