Quotes for the discouraged researcher

Research is hard.  And keeping oneself inspired to keep at it is even harder.  These are some favorites that keep me going.  (If these aren't enough, see Xavier Sala-i-Martin's hilarious collection of rejected ideas.)

"Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known."
- Carl Sagan

"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."
- Albert Einstein

"I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work."
-Thomas Edison on attempting to make an incandescent light bulb

"Good and bad research take the same amount of time."
- Some economist?
(tell me who if you know). Larry Summers

"If you want to make incremental contributions to the literature in your field — let us say, if you want to generalize an existence theorem by relaxing the condition of semi-strict quasi-concavity to one of mere hemi-demi-proper pseudoconcavity — then stick to the technical journals. If you want to change your field in more fundamental ways, then obtain your primary motivation from life, and use it to look for fundamental shortcomings of previous thinking in the field."
- Avinash Dixit describing Thomas Schelling after he won the Nobel Prize
(I owe this one to Matt Notowidigdo)

"He well knows what snares are spread about his path, from personal animosity... and possibly from popular delusion.  But he has put to hazard his ease, his security, his interests, his power, even his... popularity.... He is traduced and abused for his supposed motives.  He will remember that obloquy is a necessary ingredient in the composition of all true glory: he will remember...that calumny and abuse are essential parts of triumph.... He may live long, he may do much.  But here is the summit.  He never can exceed what he does this day."
-Edmund Burke's eulogy of Charles James Fox for his attack upon the tyranny of the East India Company, House of Commons, December 1, 1783
(I owe this one to JFK)

"Good sense is, of all things among men, the most equally distributed; for every one thinks himself so abundantly provided with it, that those even who are the most difficult to satisfy in everything else, do not usually desire a larger measure of this quality than they already posess. And in this it is not likely that all are mistaken: the conviction is rather to be held as testifying that the power of judging aright and of distinguishing truth from error, which is properly what is called good sense or reason, is by nature equal in all men; and that the diversity of our opinions, consequently, does not arise from some being endowed with a larger share of reason than others, but solely from this, that we conduct our thoughts along different ways, and do not fix our attention on the same objects. For to be possessed of a vigorous mind is not enough; the prime requisite is rightly to apply it. The greatest minds, as they are capable of the highest excellences, are open likewise to the greatest aberrations....
I will not hesitate, however, to avow my belief that it has been my singular good fortune to have very early in life fallen in with certain tracks which have conducted me to considerations and maxims, of which I have formed a method that gives me the means, as I think, of gradually augmenting my knowledge, and of raising it by little and little to the highest point which the mediocrity of my talents and the brief duration of my life will permit me to reach."
-Rene Descartes, Discourse on Method, 1637


  1. I think that quote about bad research taking just as much time as good research comes from Larry Summers. Or at least, I've heard it attributed to him previously.

  2. Attributed to Larry here, first page: http://www.columbia.edu/~drd28/Thesis%2520Research.pdf

  3. Thanks DRDR! It's a good resource document in itself.

    In my browser, the link was this: