Published 3 July 2012 by Markus Pössel
Remind me again why we are doing this?
To be sure: it’s probably not fair to try to deduce something so fundamental – what motivates you to do research? – from a brief text that, presumably, was part of an application form. You do not fill out those forms as a soul-searching exercise, but for a concrete reason: you’re applying for something. In this case, for a chance to attend the 62nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting as one of the 592 Young Researchers who will, over the next few days, listen to lectures, get involved in conversations with Nobel laureates, take part in discussions and, if past experience is any guide, thoroughly enjoy themselves.
Still, by their sheer quantity and variety, the 592 statements by the Young Researchers about their "Research Motivation", faithfully documented in the Participant Directory beneath each participant’s image, name, affiliation, e-mail address, sponsor, and list of scientific research interests, make for fascinating, if somewhat overwhelming reading.
Maybe there really are humans that, after getting out of bed in the morning, think to themselves, "cool, another day, another opportunity to achieve personal scientific growth and to use my knowledge to improve the scientific research in my country!" But somehow, I have a hard time believing that.
To be sure, something like scientific progress serving humanity is a pleasant and noble higher-level feeling. But the motivation that will drive you into the lab, to your computer, trying out various solutions, failing miserably 70% of the time, sinking to new lows of frustration and yet coming back the next day until things finally go right?
For that, I’d bet that you need something more immediate, and a number of participants provide answers that I can fully believe: Curiosity (undisputed reason number one). A love of solving puzzles. The immense satisfaction of solving a difficult problem. The feeling when, after lots of preparations, everything comes together. The thrill of knowing something that nobody has ever known before. Using your knowledge to create something physical and concrete. An element of playfulness (as one participant put it, "playing with ideas while working on important problems").
Another joy I can immediately relate to is that of discussing science with others, in a quick bouncing back-and-forth of ideas, a no-holds-barred friendly dispute leading to results that none of the participants could have reached separately. Some of my happiest experiences in science involve this kind of discussion, so I can understand why a number of participants list this as an important part of their motivation. I keep my fingers crossed that it’s exactly what they will find at the Lindau meeting.