I’m dumb, but it’s okay!

So like most grad students, I’ve been feeling extremely retarded lately. Experiments are giving me weird (and quite repeatable results) that throw a wrench into my understanding of what I’m doing, I’m ending up with different products from the same synthesis, and I’m getting all types of twinning (tropochemical, pseudo-merohedral, etc, etc) in an allegedly ‘single’ crystal. In other words, I feel dumb.

However, after commiserating with my fellow grad students, and eventually with the parental units, I was lead to an interesting article published way back in the day in the Journal of Cell Science.

The importance of stupidity in scientific research

It definitely made me feel better, and I’d like to add some things that my dad (who was once a grad student and is now a chemistry prof as well) told me.

If you dont feel stupid every now and then…
1) …you’re not picking the ‘right’ research question
2) …you’re not working hard enough to get results that stump you
3) …you really dont understand enough about your project
4) …you’re way too arrogant and belong in business school instead (no, he really didnt say that)

But, he did add the caveats that you did need to feel smart and accomplished every now and then or else you just dont know what you’re doing (it goes along with #3)

so to everyone out there who feels dumb on occasion from their research, remember, it’s okay! Just keep on truckin!


  1. Definitely what I needed to hear today.

  2. Definitely. I thought something was wrong with me when I went into college. I felt as if I had all of the sudden lost somewhere between 10-15 IQ points. But I’ve read more and more articles online that discuss the importance of feeling stupid. I am definitely comforted.

  3. My main suggestion is to continue reading: the old, the new, and the ugly.

    • reading is a really great idea, up until the point where you’ve convinced yourself that all ideas have already been tried. sometimes i find that a simple control experiment can answer a lot of questions.

      (although sometimes it just answers the question, is joel a doofus? with a resounding yes).

  4. It reminds me of geneticist James Watson saying that breakthroughs are sometimes owed to “the principle sloppiness” to get non-reproducible results. Apparently it’s not enough to be stupid, you must also be clumsy.

  5. This post gets a mention in the current issue of Nature Chemsitry (I really like their blog roll feature!)


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