Continuing my endeavor to link to advice by non-philosophers about non-philosophy…
Last night I stumbled across slides for a talk called “How to Have a Bad Career In Research/Academia”. (The link is to the page with the talk, not to the talk itself.) That was, by and large, pretty disappointing. It mentioned a 1986 talk at Bell Labs which sounded kind of neat. I googled that and found “You and Your Research” by Richard Hamming. This talk was pretty good. Of course, it wasn’t by a philosopher or about philosophy. It was by a mathematician about computer science, mostly. Still, there was a decent amount of good advice, although some of it is hard to apply to philosophy. But, there were large bits that seemed applicable and which I enjoyed. It also resonated, in a strange way, with Dennett’s short piece on chmess. The main points in the talk were that in order to do great work one had to: work hard. identify the important problems in an area, work on those problems, and be flexible. For people that don’t want to read the whole thing, I’ll quote my favorite bit:
“Over on the other side of the dining hall was a chemistry table. I had worked with one of the fellows, Dave McCall; furthermore he was courting our secretary at the time. I went over and said, “Do you mind if I join you?” They can’t say no, so I started eating with them for a while. And I started asking, “What are the important problems of your field?” And after a week or so, “What important problems are you working on?” And after some more time I came in one day and said, “If what you are doing is not important, and if you don’t think it is going to lead to something important, why are you at Bell Labs working on it?” I wasn’t welcomed after that; I had to find somebody else to eat with! That was in the spring.”
What on earth are the important problems in the different areas of philosophy…

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