I’m getting old now (almost 50), here is some advice for young scientists, gathered over the years. To be taken with care, opinions evolve.
Do you believe in biology? Life comes from chemistry, cells and all that. Big animals eat small animals. They regularly mutate, the stronger survive.
As humans, we’re designed for having an outdoor life, and live until 40. Have around 10 kids, 7-8 of which will die, and 2-3 of which will survive.
This is certainly nice and beautiful and constructive, but completely away from what is going on. How to get back to simple and healthy things?
It’s hard to do good mathematics and physics, throughout a lifetime, without a rock-solid motivation. There are two possible motivations, namely:
1. Applications. That’s nuclear physics, fluid mechanics, high-end optics, and so on. Military and civilian. Want it or not, we’re a branch of the army.
2. Social. As an academic, you’re part of the intellectual elite which rules the world. Your opinions can matter, if you have a goal, and strategy.
Mens sana in corpore sano, they used to say. This tends to be forgotten. Can’t do anything serious if you can’t even look at yourself in a glass.
Serious scientists tend to have a healthy, carnivore diet. Beef, pork, chicken, with bread, rice, potatoes, and some fresh vegetables, and here you go.
Working, gardening or doing some sport is important too. Be sure to develop both the quick and slow fibers of your muscles. Both needed.
For further motivation, at times, you have of course all kinds of culture. Music, movies. History, politics, religion. Coffee, alcohol and cigarettes.
However, things are quite tricky here, you need some know-how. Be picky. Most of modern culture is infested with bad ideas and philosophy.
Have a cat, or two. Cats are just amazing. The smallest and cutest kitty is 10 times stronger than any human. So much to learn, from them.
It takes 10,000 hours to be good at something: whatever sport, whatever job, whatever skill, even driving a car. Math is no exception to this.
Count 200-300 hours per paper. With work meaning computing, or doing tex. The rest (reading, thinking) being rather relaxation.
Importantly, don’t be fooled by discussions with “geniuses”, producing right away 1/2 paper. Dude worked 100 hours before talking to you.
Things are ruthless here. Your mathematical impact will be roughly 2^N, where N is the number of hours you work per day.
Here work means as usual doing computations, or doing tex. As for the impact itself, this is additive over groups of people.
Most folks work 2 hours, impact 4. Good guys work 4-6 hours, impact 16-64. For wartime purposes, work 10 hours, impact 1024.
In good old times, you would walk to university, talk to some gentlemen there, do your work, then say hello to your family in the evening.
Modern life is so much complicated. You’ll have to find tricks, and make some sacrifices too, in order to be able to truly contribute to science.
Don’t forget to choose a nice country too, for living. And keep in mind here that only nuclear powers truly encourage math and physics.
Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose.. You won’t need to go that far, but you’ll definitely need some freedom, for doing good work.
Academic freedom is one hell of a tricky issue. You have to be smart. Very smart. Imagine having both the KGB and Gestapo stalking you.
Teach calculus. Lots of calculus. Years and years, until you like it. You’ll gain power, strength, and freedom. Plus, it’s amazing mathematics.
Your math is not that much of an abstract thing. Just a computer file, written in Tex, and English. For good results you have to love these, both.
For English, this is quite easy. Music, movies, internet. If you like things like NFL, UFC or Nascar, it’s even simpler. Plus of course travel, talk.
As for Tex, best is to do it old-school. No macros, no labels, no %, no bibtex, no unicode. Just try once, and you’ll see, that’s highly efficient.
Being aware of what’s going on, and browsing through the tons of math info daily appearing on the internet, is quite an art.
With some experience, and good choices made, this should take about 30 mins/day. Anything more is not really productive.
In real life, avoid attending too many talks. For best discussing math, what you need is a table. With coffee, beer, or some good food on it.
Paper and laptop. Along with backup laptop, printer, toner, usb sticks. Add in some headphones and good music, if needed, and you’re king.
At war wear camouflage, they say. For academics, that means jeans, shirt, shoes. Useful for gardening too, or for going out in town.
Have a swiss knife too. Very useful in many situations. The can opener for instance can unstaple staples. Anytime, anywhere.
To conclude, mathematics is an interesting, useful and pleasant occupation, once you love it, and have some precise goals in mind.
It’s all about motivation. Fighting for certain things. Like a soldier. Once you have that, there is no barrier to what you can do.
Fighting is of course tiring, and war is a dirty thing. But there are so many people who fought, or are still fighting. These are your people.