So you stumbled upon a time-machine…

First of all, congratulations!  You found a time-machine!  Second–what are you still doing here?

If I ran into a DeLorean just sitting around with a fully charged flux capacitor, I would travel back in time to warn myself about a career in science (er…I mean, ‘to provide some helpful advice’).  Here’s what I would tell my naïve self:

You (I?) will spend a considerable amount of time making things.  And it’s probably not what you are thinking.  I mean, really building things, using power tools, various glues, soldering irons, 3D-printers, you name it.  Sometimes it’s because science is ridiculously expensive and a couple hours of “crafting” can save hundreds of dollars.  Other times it’s because a specific component doesn’t exist.  The following skills will be extremely useful to you:

  1. Computer programming.  Many of my daily problems to be solved if I possessed more than a wisp of knowledge in this area.  For example, I could be a whiz at sorting and analyzing excel spreadsheets with custom-made macros.  I could breeze through data using programs written in Matlab.  I could finally get those two pieces of hardware talking to each other again so I don’t need to scream in panic as precious samples get liberally sprayed around the room by robots.  But I digress…
  2. Soldering.  I first learned to solder as a kid with one of those “build-it yourself” kits where you attach little LEDs onto a Christmas tree shaped circuit board.  I wish I had done more (there are some surprisingly awesome kits available now).  Despite being more expensive than equipment  you would buy for your home, science equipment is often much more “custom” and far less robust.  Sometimes the only thing between finally completing your experiments and catastrophic failure is the gumption to grab a soldering iron and put it all back together.
  3. A knowledge of power tools.  Some scientists work in specialized rooms that were designed and constructed for a very specific purpose.  Some don’t.  I’m not saying that I have drilled holes through walls and tables in our building…but sometimes the environment does need a little modification.  Knowing which tools to use when and where is important.

In other words, I would say to myself “learn to be more handy, past me!”.  And “work out more, your upper body strength is deplorable”.

Your future self will thank you.

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