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Advice for a Young Investigator
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Advice for a Young Investigator

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  663 ratings  ·  58 reviews
An anecdotal guide for the perplexed new investigator as well as a refreshing resource for the old pro, covering everything from valuable personality traits for an investigator to social factors conducive to scientific work.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal was a mythic figure in science. Hailed as the father of modern anatomy and neurobiology, he was largely responsible for the mode
Paperback, 150 pages
Published February 27th 2004 by MIT Press (MA) (first published July 1st 1897)
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Back in my ~2nd year of grad school, a mentor that I respected (and still respect) recommended this book to me. I quite happily picked up this 1897 text, eager to glean the wisdom of a Nobel prize-winning neuroscientist. Unfortunately, this turned out to be an almost unbearable read at the time, and when I leafed through it again recently... yep, still unbearable. I'll admit that it contains some helpful guidance about a lot of the psychological pitfalls that a young scientist might come across, ...more
Jen Hamon
Nov 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
About 1/3 of this book contains useful information (Beginner Traps, How to Read a Monograph, etc). But unfortunately, much of this work is so dated that it's not helpful to the modern would-be investigator. Examples: endless reference to "men of science," talk of the necessity to learn German to succeed, rambling about money and patriotism that doesn't make sense outside of Spain, the chapter on choosing a suitable wife to compliment one's career, and many others.
Roy Lotz
Books, like people, we respect and admire for their good qualities, but we only love them for some of their defects.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal has a fair claim to being the greatest scientist to hail from Spain. I have heard him called the “Darwin of Neuroscience”: his research and discoveries are foundational to our knowledge of the brain. When he won the Nobel Prize in 1906 it was for his work using nerve stains to differentiate neurons. At the time, you see, the existence of nerve cells was s
I would give this 10 stars if I could. Written by the father of neuroscience in 1897. Enjoyable writing (translation); clear, direct, generous, encouraging advice; perfect mix of formal and not-sugar-coated opinion; fun (now) historical current examples. Short but wonderfully parsimonious (several times refers to itself as a pamphlet). Should have read it 11 years ago when I bought it! Excellent.

Dimitri Yatsenko
Jun 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed reading this book immensely, although it does need to be taken with a sense of humor in places.

Santiago Ramon y Cajal instructed his followers to build character in order to become fully dedicated to the task of collecting detailed data about nature and fully immersed in a narrow niche that one is studying. He cautioned against getting caught up in useless distractions: excessive theorizing, authority worship, gossip, or relationship troubles.

The following quote sums up a great deal of
Dec 01, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Recommended by my scientific ethics professor. Ramon y Cajal is a famous Spanish neuroscientist, often considered the father of modern neurobiology. This little book contains his advice for young scientists. It's an interesting read, though more as a snapshot of the history and sociology of science than as a source of actual career advice. Some of the advice is very interesting, but much more of it is questionable, dated, or obvious. The prose is also a little dry; I suspect it reads better in S ...more
Pat Rondon
Sep 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good read for grad students of all ages, if a bit dated. Take Ramón y Cajal at his word for developing persistence, original taste, and the importance of knowing others' work, and ignore the bits that hint at isolating yourself. (And laugh at the incongruously sexist "what kind of woman should our young man of research marry? One of our young women of research, if possible!")
Aman Vig
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
A trip back in time. It was an interesting read, to see how the relevance of many explicitly mentioned and some implicit social norms reflected in the book have changed yet the principles of progressing science logistically still ring true.
Sep 06, 2017 rated it liked it
This book was written in 1897 while we barely made small step of discoveries on science, specially on his field, neuroscience. He is the father of neuroscience, we should give him the credit he deserved.
In this book, he was like a father, a real sincere professor who try to pass down his manner in science researches. He asked us not to be blindly following the authority, pick up the subject that least people choose, which means the topic that most people think difficult. Think independently, sta
Sep 28, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It would be a pity to fail to reap the interesting thoughts and advice in this book because one fails to consider the age in which it was written (end of 18th century).

Overall, if one knows how to sift between what’s applicable to present day values and what’s not, there are a few gems of advice here and there. I mostly appreciated the emphasis on discipline.

There is also lot of dated advice, but if you take this as a historical read -rather than an advice book - it turns out to be a quite inter
Carly Martin
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
The resemblance of the scientific culture of Cajal's time with ours is STARTLING, and makes this a really compelling read for any young investigator of the 2020s. I genuinely enjoyed the passage on 'choosing a suitable wife' for a scientist because it was a) funny and b) a candid look at the outlook and priorities of this great figure in neuroscience.
Feb 25, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Right when I joined the lab, I got this book from my PI (principal investigator, or My Boss), who had gotten it from his PI when he first started. I’m ashamed to say that I had never heard of Santiago Ramón y Cajal before this, but apparently he’s one of those big guys in science? This classic guide for new grad students is practical, informative, and often humorous, but probably a bit outdated given the cringe-worthy emphasis on the dominance of men in research and the supporting role of women. ...more
Ahmed Nader
Jul 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Valuable, timeless advice from a man who's the Godfather of neuroscience.

Scientists are just people just you and It's all about how hard you work even with the minimum tools available you can still pursue science and discovery
Arman Fesharaki
Mar 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece

This is the second time I read the book after a few years and it still resonates ever so deeply. I think it is a must read for all researchers in the early phase of their careers.
Matt Backes
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting, if somewhat dated, advice for scientiests and researchers. Not the best book of its genre, but a short reminder on some of the principles needed.
Abraham Dabengwa
Dec 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I wish I had read it straight after high school. Good read for aspiring scientists
Mar 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Outdated and so Iberian... However it is helpful and still, consider him the father if neuroscience.
Mariana Zurita
Nov 15, 2018 rated it it was ok
It is a good book if you want a historical reference of how people thought 100 years ago. It is not a good reference for today's investigators.
Dec 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Good book if you are a scientist, just one part is awful which is how to pick a wife........
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
A slim book by the grandfather of neuroscience with advice for young scientists. I was looking forward to reading this, but was anticipating 1) harsh injunctions emphasizing the need for personal sacrifice and total commitment to science (successful scientists tend to be an intense lot) and 2) the occasional anachronistic view on race, women, etc.

How refreshing to run into neither of these! Ramon y Cajal comes across as intensely likable, erudite and passionate but also witty and good-natured, s
Nov 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: on-science
This book is suitable only for those beginning a career in doctoral science research (PhD), particularly biologists. This is simply not worth your time if you are of a different scientific standing (layperson, preapplicant, pregraduate, BSc, MSc, lab tech, postdoc, independent researcher, PI).

I read this because for the next few years I aim to repeat and quantify what earned Ramón y Cajal the sixth ever Nobel Prize in Medicine & Physiology, but for different cells and within the human brain.

Jun 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
The book should be seen as a historic reference as it was published in 1893. The views of the author are therefore very strange and old-fashioned. (Learn German, women should assist their husband) Though I don't agree with this, I would recommend this book to every new scientist especially in the Life Science field. It is well written and the author is very passionate about being a scientist. What I didn't like about the book was how Cajal made mistakes in his own arguing. For example he argues ...more
Efsun Annac
Mar 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is great. Let me explain why. First of all, please do not forget that it was written in 1897, and for its time this is a 'novel' book targeting graduate students or with Cajal's term "young investigators". Second, he tries to share all his experience and advice about how to survive as a young investigator in a complicated area, that is; Academy or any research environment. Third, he gives pieces of advice not only about how to do research but also how to cooperate or communicate with o ...more
Jan 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: printed
Overall, I think there is a lot of wisdom in this book about how to shape the mind and life of an aspiring scientist. Sure, there were some objectionably sexist remarks in one chapter, but given the time and culture that the author wrote this in, it is at least marginally understandable. It shouldn't be a reason not to read the book.

It's also interesting from a historical standpoint, to read how the scientific world functioned in the last century and to view Spain's position.

I definitely will
Feb 05, 2013 rated it liked it
I liked it, interesting to see the historical perspective and the views of a world-leading scientist ~1900. Certainly some aspects are dated, but plenty still carries through. Sort of a puzzle to try to read his language and distill it into principles applicable to the modern research field, so that was fun. Also nice to set modern research in the context of a hundred+ year old tradition. However, in spite of some humor it was a little dry and stilted compared to modern writing, which simply mad ...more
Goh Jiayin
Jan 22, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I really do think that Ramon y Cajal is a serious man with a kind heart. Most of his words are frank and somewhat easy to understand. It might be due to this book being a translated version. While reading this book, I have come to realise about my flaws and improvements that can be done. Besides that, it is a somewhat comforting book that tells you it's okay to make mistake as long as you learn from it. A thought provoking book indeed that make me question my place and interest in science for ev ...more
Rohit Suratekar
Cajal was a prolific researcher, this book represents his philosophy about working in science. Author explains many different aspects ranging from inspiration to do research to qualities of good investigators. Many of the qualities and situations mentioned in the book are actually significant for the period of time in Spain when author was there. Many of author's remarks are not useful in current scientific community. Nevertheless, the point raised by authors are good and convincing.
Nov 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016, favourites
It is a wonderful read. Cajal provided great insights from developing a research plan to the retirement. Choosing a research field, students, collaborations etc. that could align with institution's theory along with fostering personal ambitions. Even he advised on choosing an appropriate spouse, whose personality can be beneficial for research career if not an obstacle.

Definitely a must read if you are considering a research career!
Chris Aldrich
Jan 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
This is certainly worth the read for the high qualities of its translation and vocabulary. There are lots of great aphorisms and brilliant bits of advice. Some of the parts about patriotism and information about things like picking a wife are anachronistically funny to read 100+ years after they were written.
Jun 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very interesting book for starting researchers. Sometimes in a bit old-fashioned way (the book was published in 1898), Ramón y Cajal goes over worries and qualities of good researchers, and provides interesting advice to novel investigators. The very last chapter is a very insightful criticism of Spain's poor research trajectory of the early XX century.
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Santiago Ramón y Cajal ForMemRS (Spanish: [sanˈtjaɣo raˈmon i kaˈxal]; 1 May 1852 – 18 October 1934) was a Spanish pathologist, histologist, neuroscientist and Nobel laureate. His original pioneering investigations of the microscopic structure of the brain have led him to be designated by many as the father of modern neuroscience. His medical artistry was legendary, and hundreds of his drawings il ...more

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