What kind of scientist are you?

By Grant Jacobs 15/04/2012

In his novel COSM Gregory Benford describes* four types of scientists –

  1. I want to know – ’Prying into Mother Nature’s secrets.’
  2. Theory predicts – Exploring what theory says ought to happen.
  3. This is what I do – ’Habit often rather mindless. More deeply, it means This is who I am.’
  4. A sweet experiment – Doing a well designed/executed experiment itself.**

What kind of scientist are you?



Gregory Benford is really writing about physicists (he’s a physicist himself) but the categories are basic enough they ought to apply to other fields.

Lest anyone think that computational biologists (my field) don’t do experiments – quibble about it, as I’m sure many will, but you can conduct ‘dry’ experiments on datasets. (Or at least I can wave my hands around a little here…)

If you’re a fan of hard science fiction and haven‘t read Gregory Benford’s work, do. His work is grounded on ideas taken from physics/astronomy/cosmology played out with strong lead characters. There’s a chat on the lablit forums opened by the author, with more thoughts elsewhere on the same forum. Reviews of COSM can be read at Suite101, goodreads and elsewhere.

* p33.

** It’s a bit harder to pick Gregory’s intentions on this one; this is my interpretation.

Other articles in Code for life:

What is your relationship with your research notebook?

Scientific article download costs

New academic visas for New Zealand

The 24/7 lab: in praise of time out

Describe your fantasy institute

0 Responses to “What kind of scientist are you?”

  • There are several ‘other’ things I thought about adding, but then I thought to wait and see what readers said 😉

    One thing I thought add was to mention that Gregory’s list is really of those involved in research, as opposed to the 70%-odd that move out of academic. People industry for example might not easily relate to Gregory’s categories (?) There’s more, but I was hoping others might bring that to the comments.

  • Interesting like any group of people there are various tribes, I am definitely trying to pry into mother natures secrets and also an experimenter.

  • I am definitely of the “I want to know!!!” category. The beauty of prying into nature’s secrets is that while you’re finding one answer, you usually discover a multitude of other questions to pursue 🙂

  • Hi biochembelle,

    Thanks you adding to this – now you’ve been approved you can comment with being held up.

    I’ve got a fair bit of “I want to know” in me, too. More on that later maybe. While I’m writing, I put this up in part to see how people saw themselves in relation to what they do, an extension on the science careers articles I’ve written in the past.

    I like your blog, too! I’m (now) a Southerner, of sorts. The part of the country I’m in is (somewhat melodramatically) referred to as ‘the Deep South’. (For whatever reason I still personally tend to think of the Deep South as further south again.)

    Now I’ve got to get outside and patch up a few more weatherboards before winter starts to set in…

  • Via twitter drugmonkey wrote:

    “4 the pinnacle of 3 which I use to pretend 2 to #NIHGrant rvwrs to cover up my real interest in 1”

    (For those that don’t like text-speak: “Category 4 is the pinnacle of category 3, which I use to pretend category 2 to NIH grant reviewers to cover up my real interest in category 1.”)