What matters more: talent or persistence?

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What are the characteristics that make women successful in science? Is it networking skills, intelligence or talent? I actually doubt it. In my opinion the most important qualities to “make it” in science are persistence, selling yourself and some luck component related to being at the right place at the right time.

If you are highly talented but not very persistent you will likely become frustrated and give up after the first few rejections, which happen so frequently in academia, and your talent will mean nothing anymore. Knowing the right people, i.e. networking, can be helpful, but again what would it matter if you give up quickly. Imagine you would email a professor whose research you admire and ask for a job and she/he does not respond. Your email is probably just one in hundreds at that day, and she/he just did not notice it, was too busy and forgot to answer. A persistent person would not throw in the towel in this situation and instead try again, next time sending more high priority emails or use the telephone.

You might be highly intelligent, but if you doubt yourself at the same time (which is likely, because high IQ people tend to be more insecure by nature) you will not convince anyone. Stupid people, on the other side, think they are capable of everything. Selling yourself appropriately and be confident no matter what happens is half the battle. Unfortunately, it seems that women are often too honest about their missing capabilities and show their insecurities more often than men. If a job advertisement requests for six criteria, women would not apply if they miss one. Men would apply if they just meet a single one (or even none). Who will most likely get the job? This is also a vicious cycle since rejections will lead to more insecurities will lead to more rejections, the whole process perpetuates itself. A female, very talented friend of mine is on the job market since 1.5 years because of this. On the other hand, I saw really dumb people making their PhDs and beeing hired immediately.

My summary of this is that intelligence is nice to have, but for a career in science, it’s not mandatory. Selling yourself and be persistent is way more important.

Or as Noble Prize winner Jennifer Doudna recently said: “Walk into a room like you own the place. A man would do that without compunction”.

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