[xquery-talk] letter to a young scientist, and what this community is all about

daniela florescu dflorescu at me.com
Mon May 20 17:13:48 PDT 2013

Dear James and David,

you both told me that you do not understand what I am trying to say about turning this 
community into a more scientifically driven one.

At first I didn't know what to answer, because honestly, I have no particular agenda, and no
clear goal in mind when I said that.

But in the meantime, your request made me think about the lessons I received when I was a young
researcher, lessons that I tried to inculcate to my PhD students and my team.

Maybe they are useful in this discussion.

Here is what I teach them.

1. Make sure you understand what is the problem you try to solve.

That's self-evident. Spend MORE time clarifying the problem then trying to find a solution.

Often after that the solution will show up naturally.

2. Make sure the problem you try to solve is worthwhile.

Are you helping someone in a big way ? If no, move on to a different problem.

3. Be open minded and don't have fixed ideas and preconceptions.

"It HAS to be this way". "This has ALWAYS worked like this.'

Well, if we would want to keep thinks to keep working the way they did, we wouldn't do research....

4. Do not be afraid to talk when you think you have something to say.

Do not be afraid to be taken for stupid. Most people are quiet because they are afraid to look stupid. 
What a terrible mistake !! And how many interesting things we don't hear because the people thinking them 
are afraid to speak up !

Do not do that!!

5.  Use your own mind, and do not take anybody else's opinion for granted.

Hence, the "what do you care what other people think?"....

There is no reason age, or social status will make you smarter, or more creative. In fact, I think it's likely the opposite.

6. When you open your mouth, though, be SURE that you did your research, and redid it 100 times.

Don't be flamboyant if you don't know what you are talking about.

7. Don't be afraid to tackle "big" problem, or propose visionary solutions.

Most people avoid those being afraid to be taken for paranoid. I will solve the cancer problem. Or I will solve the hunger in the world.
Or I will make peace in the world. 

Well, yeah, you sound a tad lunatic when you say it. But geez, SOMEONE will do it one day. Why not you !? And even if you solve the problem
entirely, maybe you put a serious dent into it.

8. Don't be afraid to say: "this is not true".

Many people try to be nice, and don't say "you are wrong" when they think it.  Again. that's another mistake. That's the wrong moment to be nice.
In fact, that's NOT being nice, because sometimes the consequences (for other people) or your knowing that something and wrong and shutting up,
can be nasty.

That's a wrong interpretation of "being nice".

But then again, check and recheck your facts before you do that.

9. Don't say things just to be popular.

Many young scientists are afraid to open their mouths for fear that'll be taken for nutcases.
Science is not a popularity contest. (that's why uncool kids from highschool become better scientists, they are
already used to NOT being popular..:-)

Well, yeah. This is because you ARE a nutcase. Live with this. Most good scientists are nutcases.

A good scientists changes the status quo, and this rarely happens while being popular. Usually there is some form of inertia that pushes back on you.

10. Don't accept to change your scientific opinion because of pressure induced by people with more power then you.

Unless you live in Iran or Korea, or some other strange places, or people threaten you to break your legs, don't do that.
If you have no other choice, exploit the fact that we live in a free world, and move somewhere else...
(that would explain my so many job employments :-)

11. Don't expect that once you said something once, BOUM, the world suddenly understands you perfectly and suddenly the world changes.

The secret to happiness is to manage expectations.

Get a grip, the likelihood of this happening is VERY low.

12. Get a good hobby and have a bunch of good friends.

This helps with problem 11 above. 

Seriously, usually in my job interviews I ask people about they hobbies and friends. Someone who doesn't have any is less likely to be resilient to stress.
(and stress there will be if you try to change the world..)

13. Develop a good taste for science. 

Good taste in science is very similar with good taste in fashion. Certain things are aesthetic and elegant, others not.
I don't know how to explain this better.

A mathematician friend of mine told me once " If a proof of a theorem is ugly, it is certainly flawed."

14. Have fun while doing research.

If you are not having fun, and you are not entthusiastic,  something is off, either with you, your interest in the problem, or the problem itself.

Then go do something else.

15. Don't support a  cause for commercial gain only.

When you do so, science is gone.

Of course, commercial gain is always part of the equation, someone has to pay for your/your team/your company's bills, and we didn't invent yet a world without money.

But there is a matter of balance and proportions.

16. Associate yourself with other people you think are good scientists.

There is someone who said: "be friend with smart people and suddenly you will become one of them".

but also goes along the lines: associate yourself with people that are not creepy and only motivated by commercial gain, or control.

17. Do not belong to "scientific" groups that have members  above the law, aka, whose opinion is taken as the gospel, or groups
who have "principles" that are above being discussed.

The groups who need Gods and given books are called religious groups, not scientific communities.

To cite from another classic favorite of mine (Goya):
The sleep of reason produces monsters.

18. Even if you have something interesting to say, be brief and do not open your mouth EVERY DAY.

To paraphrase freely from Larry Page: "If I have to read your emails every day, or I need to scroll to read it, I won't read it at all".

19. Do not feel bad because you want your solution to be accepted.

Of course you do. That's a sign that you care about the problem. Otherwise, tell me again, why do you do research at all !?

That's not a sign that you are mentally disturbed and an ego fanatic (well, unless you are :-). That's in general a sign that you care.

20. On the other hand, if proven that you are wrong, accept it and move on.

Nothing wrong with that. Everybody has been wrong (Jim Gray, another legend once famously explained publicly to the Wikipedia founder why wikipedia will never work..)
(well, the stupidest moment of my life is when I did the same with founder of twitter, when he was a young and totally unknown person...Oups.)

20. Learn to laugh.

Laughing increases creativity.

Good research is sometimes like a good prankster.


Now, after scrolling up to here, you might ask me why do you had to read all this. Well, it's because James and David asked me :-)

Seriously now.

I think this community is faulty first and foremost with the FIRST bullet on this list.

We don't  know what is the problem we solve.

If (re)formatting documents is what we want, XSLT does it magnificently, and we should all go home.

If it's information management, data science, or whatever name this thing has, then XQuery is just the first drop in the ocean
and we need to go back to the drawing board.


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