This is from a colleague’s blog and I think it is well worth sharing!
NPR ran an interview with Walter Isaacson who has authored a recent biography of Albert Einstein. One of the many interesting topics brought up during the course of this interview was the fact that Einstein came up with almost all of his most famous and field-changing ideas during the early part of his career while he was working as a clerk in the Swiss patent office. Previous to this interview I just assumed that these ideas were born during Einstein’s appointment to formal teaching positions in which immersion in the academic life would have supported and helped generate his work.
However, instead of the university, the catalysts for Einstein’s breakthroughs were his 6-day a week job in the patent office in which he was exposed to many innovative ideas that landed on his desk (mainly having to do with watches–this was Switzerland after all). Furthermore, his office was above a train station that fascinated and amused Einstein. Lastly, on the way to work Einstein would walk with his good friend that helped him land the patent office job and the two of them would talk about Einstein’s ideas. This gave Einstein encouragement and critique.
Here are my take away ideas for modern scholarship:
Always maintain broad interests and stimulus, a focus that is too narrow will impede innovation and break through ideas.
Have at least one good friend of which you can bounce ideas.
If you don’t get a formal teaching position right after graduation you are in good company. Don’t get discouraged, this might be the most productive part of your career.