I love Martin A. Schwarz's essay "The importance of stupidity in scientific research." Any PhD student should immediately click the link and read the whole, brief essay. In case you aren't convinced, here are some key excerpts.
For almost all of us, one of the reasons that we liked science in high school and college is that we were good at it. That can't be the only reason – fascination with understanding the physical world and an emotional need to discover new things has to enter into it too. But high-school and college science means taking courses, and doing well in courses means getting the right answers on tests. If you know those answers, you do well and get to feel smart.
A Ph.D., in which you have to do a research project, is a whole different thing. For me, it was a daunting task. How could I possibly frame the questions that would lead to significant discoveries; design and interpret an experiment so that the conclusions were absolutely convincing; foresee difficulties and see ways around them, or, failing that, solve them when they occurred? ... I remember the day when Henry Taube (who won the Nobel Prize two years later) told me he didn't know how to solve the problem I was having in his area. I was a third-year graduate student and I figured that Taube knew about 1000 times more than I did (conservative estimate). If he didn't have the answer, nobody did.
That's when it hit me: nobody did. That's why it was a research problem. And being my research problem, it was up to me to solve.
... if we don't feel stupid it means we're not really trying. ... Science involves confronting our `absolute stupidity'. That kind of stupidity is an existential fact, inherent in our efforts to push our way into the unknown.
In other posts, I have two categories of advice for economists in relation to their work.
1. More personal advice:
- How to Find Your Comparative Advantage
- Believe in Yourself
- Breaking the Chains
- Leaving a Legacy
- My Objective Function
- The Unmaking
- Tom Gauld's Sympathy Cards for Scientists
- Miles's Recipe for Success
- On Perfectionism
2. Advice for doing good for the world:
- John Locke on the Mandate of Heaven
- Economics Needs to Tackle All of the Big Questions in the Social Sciences
- Defining Economics
- Does the Journal System Distort Scientific Research?
- Let's Set Half a Percent as the Standard for Statistical Significance
- On the Virtue of Scientific Disrespect
- On Being a Good Guy