文章翻译:The Nature of Research

文章来自Connecting with Cornell,文中的 Introduction 、 Summary 、 Conclusion 是笔者自己加的。


作者:Joseph A. Burns (Vice Provost, Physical Sciences and Engineering)
Introduction: The article "The Nature of Research" by Joseph A. Burns discusses three broad questions: "What really is research? What do scientists actually do? What are their frustrations and satisfactions?" and provides personal answers to them.


What really is research? What do scientists actually do? What are their frustrations and satisfactions? This issue of Connecting with Cornell (CWC) provides personal answers to these broad questions through conversations that CWC editor Ernestina Snead had in the summer of 2005 with a few of Cornell’s most influential scholars. These discussions also indicate some attributes of successful researchers.

研究到底是什么?科学家是做什么的?他们感到失落和满足的是什么?通过 Connecting with Cornell(CWC) 的编辑 Ernestina Snead 在2015年夏季和几名Cornell最具影响力的学者的交流,这一期CWC给出了这些广泛的问题的个人答案。这些讨论还指出了成功的研究人员的一些特征。


Five Cornell professors in diverse research areas describe the intellectual challenges and also the sheer fun that they have had so far in their research careers.


Steven D. Tanksley, the Liberty Hyde Bailey Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics, tells about his studies of the evolutionary history of the common tomato and how he cannot “imagine wanting to do anything else in my entire life.”

植物育种和遗传学的 Liberty Hyde Bailey 教授(康奈尔大学的一种荣誉) Steven D. Tanksley 讲述了他对普通番茄的变革历史的研究,以及他为何不能“想象在我一生中做点别的事”。

Steven W. Squyres, the Goldwin Smith Professor of Astronomy, talks about the excitement of leading the Mars Exploration Rovers, exclaiming, “Nothing is going to top this!”

天文学的 Goldwin Smith 教授(康奈尔大学的一种荣誉) Steven W. Squyres 谈到了领导火星探险队的兴奋之情,他惊呼道,“没有什么比这更棒了!”

Barbara A. Baird, professor of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, when recounting her experience of investigating molecular signals in cells, remarks, “I’m just happy thinking about these things … My hobby is science.”

化学家、化学生物学家 Barbara A. Baird 教授在回忆她研究细胞内的分子信号的经历时说道,“我就是对思考事物感到开心……科学是我的爱好。”

Shahin Rafii, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and director of the Ansary Stem Cell Center for Regenerative Medicine at the Cornell Weill Medical College, when acknowledging the long-term value of his insights as a hematologist/oncologist in understanding blood cancers, realizes “that I have made a big difference.”

Howard Hughes 医学研究所研究员、 Cornell Weill 医学院再生医学 Ansary 干细胞研究中心主任 Shahin Rafii 在谈到他以血液学家/肿瘤学家的身份深入研究血癌的长远价值时,意识到“我做出了很大的改变。”

Perhaps influenced by his family’s seal, “To experiment is the true way,” Watt W. Webb, the Samuel B. Eckert Professor of Applied and Engineering Physics, recalls his continuing quest to see inside cells and, at age 78, describes the many projects that he intends to finish before retirement.

或许是受到家族印章的影响,78岁的应用和工程物理学的 Samuel B. Eckert 教授(康奈尔大学的一种荣誉)瓦特韦伯在回忆他不断探索细胞内部,描述许多他打算在退休前完成的项目时说道,“实验才是正确的方式。”

Summary #1: Research is like a fascinating game that is great fun to play. The process of research involves knowing the basic rule, recalling past facts, and seeking more evidence.


One academic may swirl a beaker of exotic microbes and chemicals while another steers a Mars Exploration Rover across the desolate Martian terrain, but all believe, like Baird, that research is simply “trying to figure out how things work.” To these scientists, research is like a fascinating game that is great fun to play.

一位学者可能会搅动装着外来微生物和化学物质的烧杯,另一个学者则领导火星探险队穿越荒凉的火星地形,但所有人都像 Baird 一样坚信,研究只是简单地“试图弄清事物的运作规律”。对这些科学家来说,研究就像迷人的游戏,玩起来很有乐趣。

Tanksley mentions “how interesting it is trying to understand problems and putting the pieces together like a puzzle.” The process involves knowing the basic rules, recalling past facts, and seeking more evidence.

Tanksley 提到“试图理解问题并像猜谜那样将片段的线索拼凑在一起是多么的有趣”。这样的处理过程包括理解基本原则,回忆过去的事实并且寻找更多的证据。

Squyres remarks that each researcher is a “detective at the scene of a crime looking for the clues” that nature freely—but maybe not so readily—provides when the correct questions are asked and the appropriate facilities are available.

Squyres 评论道,每个研究人员都是一个“在犯罪现场寻找证据的侦探”,大自然会无私地显露这些证据——但可能并不显而易见——发现它们需要提出正确的问题、使用合适的设备。

Sometimes previous experiments by other scientists may have already provided the sought-for answers, but a researcher must be aware of these results and trust them.


If the “alleged facts … seem to be nonsense,” they may be, notes Webb; alternatively, another researcher may not understand the results.


In some subjects, like high-energy physics, researchers watch a game played before them, and their task as researchers is to deduce the contest’s rules, learning how things operate so that the principles can be extrapolated to new situations. By contrast, in observational sciences like astronomy or geology, researchers are presented with the contest’s outcome, from which they must try to derive the rules (or break the code). Knowing how the universe has evolved, these scientists seek ultimately to infer the starting conditions that lead to the world in which we live today.


Over the last half century, the science of biology has, at an accelerating pace, moved away from mere cataloging to studying processes with the most modern tools of the physical sciences and technology.


Current wisdom is that the majority of this generation’s scientific breakthroughs will happen in the life sciences.


Summary #2: Scientists are driven by curiosity or the order and beauty they see in the universe, seeking to understand what no one else have uncovered before.


Many scientists are driven by curiosity and others by the order and beauty they see in the universe—some peering through a microscope and others through a telescope.


Whether translating medieval manuscripts or transposing monster matrices, most researchers are explorers seeking to understand what no one else has uncovered before.


Squyres, who roams Mars with his rovers, is an obvious example. He admits that “going some place that no one has ever been before turns me on! Another thing … is seeing some [vista] that no human eyes have ever seen before.”

Squyres和他的漫游者漫游火星,就是一个显著的例子。 他承认,“去以前从来没有人去过的地方让我开心! 另一件事…是看到一些人眼从未见过的[远景]。“

Scientists recognize that they are confronting the unknown. “Science is discovery,” for Tanksley. He marvels, “I never know what’s going to happen here in the laboratory … what research problems will arise.”

科学家意识到它们面对着未知领域。“科学是探索,”对于 Tanksley 来说。他惊叹道:“我不知道实验室会发生什么事情…会出现什么样的研究问题。”

Summary #3: Today's scientist is not a lonely pursuer of truth as research is a social endeavor filled with human corporation and conflict.
## 第五段

Unlike Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Dr. Frankenstein, today’s scientist is not a lonely pursuer of truth. Rarely is research accomplished by a solitary scholar toiling in an isolated ivory tower.

不像 Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley 笔下的 Frankenstein 博士,如今科学家不再是孤独的真理追求者。几乎没有哪项研究是由一个在孤立的象牙塔里辛苦工作的孤立的学者完成。

Research, instead, is a social endeavor filled with human cooperation and conflict. Personalities, friendship, and rivalry play roles in what research is done and who does it. Sacrifice and envy occur as often in laboratories as they do in boardrooms. Fads and styles may influence the topics that will be studied.



All five scientists value learning from others. Much of today’s most successful research crosses disciplinary boundaries. Partly owing to Cornell’s revolutionary graduate field structure, inter-disciplinary study is an area in which our university has achieved an enviable reputation.


As Squyres points out, the involvement of colleagues from other disciplines is vital since the topics are multidisciplinary. “No one person could possibly have all the knowledge necessary,” he says. “[Research] is a team sport.”

Squyres 指出,由于主题具有多学科性,其他学科领域同事的参与至关重要。“没有人可能拥有一切必要的知识,”他说道。“【研究】是一项团队运动。”

Rafii describes how talking to his colleagues and students is crucial to brainstorming: “We connect a few lines and a new idea is born.” More than 50 years ago, Webb chose Cornell because it went far beyond other institutions in accommodating flexibility and encouraging research across disciplines.

Rafii 描述了同事、同学的交流在集思广益方面是多么地重要:“我们将几条线连起来,这样就形成了一个新的想法。”五十多年前,韦伯选择了康奈尔,因为它在灵活变通和鼓励跨学科研究上比其他机构走的更远。

Summary #4: Academic research benefits undergraduates by making the faculty's teaching relevant and up-to-date. In addition, teaching stimulates their research science the faculty are privileged to associate with students.


The flashy brochures that market top universities to high school seniors usually claim that academic research benefits undergraduates by making the faculty’s teaching relevant and up-to-date.This is true. In addition, however, as the distinguished faculty highlighted in this CWC acknowledge, teaching stimulates their research.


The necessity of simplifying complex subjects in order to explain an idea to undergraduates requires distilling concepts down to their essence.


Baird points out that lecture preparation provides an opportunity to reexamine the foundations of one’s subjects, as well as the basis for one’s professional beliefs.

Baird 指出,准备一场演讲让人有机会重新审视主题的基础,以及他职业信仰的基础。

Any teacher knows too well that inexperienced but intelligent undergraduates are often impertinent enough to ask fundamental questions. They do not know enough to realize that their “most incredibly unsophisticated” questions were put to rest long ago, often relying on assumptions that are forgotten and perhaps now known to be incorrect.


Rafii says that sometimes following a student’s naive question, he realizes, “Aha! That might be the right question to ask.” It is a truism that faculty are privileged to associate with students.

Rafii 说,听到学生幼稚的问题,他意识到,“啊哈!那可能是一个好问题。”众所周知,这样教员能和学生结交。

Summary #5: Anyone who has experienced the thrill of scientific discovery will related to the exultation when researcher find something new that can be shared with colleagues. The keys to the research success are native talent, training, diligence, drive, and the ability to identify major questions and jump quickly across disciplines. Successful researchers usually have both pride and humility, pride for their established fields, and humility for another research direction.


Anyone who has experienced the thrill of scientific discovery will relate to Squyres’ exultation, “Hold everything! We’ve found something totally new; we’re going to change our plans completely.” Such moments are especially fulfilling when they can be shared with colleagues—particularly beginning students, who otherwise might believe that everything is already known and can be found in the course textbook. Most scientists agree with Tanksley and Squyres that researchers have an obligation to share the adventure with those who are footing the bill.

每个经历过科学发现的惊喜的人都会理解 Squyres 的欢喜,“坚持!我们已经发现了一些全新的东西;我们准备完全改变计划。”这样的时刻特别令人满意,他们能与同事一起分享——尤其是刚起步的学生,否则他们可能以为所有真相都是已知并且能在教科书中找到的。大多数科学家赞同 Tanksley 和 Squyres ,认为研究人员有义务与掏腰包的人分享冒险经历。


Social responsibility motivates many researchers. Several here speak passionately about how their research will ultimately improve the human condition by defeating cancer or other life-threatening diseases, by easing allergic reactions, or by expanding the world’s food supply and augmenting its nutritional value.


Tanksley feels that he has a “great responsibility to provide for the next generations.” Squyres worries about spending the public’s funds wisely, but also describes his awe when addressing cosmic questions. His sense of wonder recalls the 1969 congressional testimony of Robert R. Wilson, the late Cornell physicist, who advocated using federal funds to probe subatomic secrets and to support the public arts; he argued that such projects enrich the human spirit and provide a reason for defending our society.

Tanksley 感到他有一种“为下一代着想伟大的责任。” Squyres 对明智地使用公款表示担忧,也描述了他对宇宙问题的敬畏。他的感觉让人联想到了已故康奈尔物理学家 Robert R. Wilson 1969年的国会证词,他提倡用联邦基金来调查亚原子的秘密、支持公共艺术;他认为这些项目可以丰富人类的精神,为捍卫我们的社会提供理由。


What are some keys to the research successes of these scientists? Obvious ones are native talent, training, diligence, and drive. Equally critical is the ability to identify major research questions in one’s field that can be solved at this time with the available tools. Once such topics have been identified, a scientist must be able to jump quickly across disciplines.


This requires a broad background that enables access to newly appealing research areas and the mental flexibility to switch paradigms. While sorting through experimental data or observational results, a researcher must be able to identify that odd piece of information that demonstrates past approaches are incomplete or wrong.


The public sometimes wonders if luck has a role in scientists’ accomplishments. “Lucky” insights or seeing new connections come to those who have prepared fertile soil. Rafii expresses this with the appealing phrase, “serendipity with watchful eyes.” It may also be that knowing a crucial question should be asked is the key. Bernard Baruch once mused that many before Newton watched apples fall, but it was only Sir Isaac who asked why.

公众有时会疑惑运气是否与科学家的成就有关。“幸运”的洞见或发现新的联系只会出现在那些已经准备好肥沃土壤的人身上。 Rafii 用一句吸引人的短语表达了这一点:“警惕的眼睛带来新发现。”也许最重要的在于问对了问题。 Bernard Baruch 曾在牛顿看到苹果掉下来之前思考过很多,但只有艾萨克先生才问为什么。


Every experienced researcher knows the pivotal place of intuition when approaching problems—how an as-yet-unproven solution can just “smell right.” But the seasoned veteran is also aware of how easily each of us can be misled. At Caltech’s commencement 30 years ago, Richard Feynman cautioned, “You must not fool yourself … and you are the easiest person for you to fool.”

每个有经验的研究人员都知道处理问题时直觉的关键地位——一个尚未被证明的解决方案可能“闻起来是对的。”但是经验丰富的老兵知道我们每个人都多么容易被误导。在加州理工学院30年前的毕业典礼上, Richard Feynman 警告过,“你千万别愚弄自己……自己是最容易被愚弄的人。”


Successful researchers usually have both pride and humility. When working in their established fields, they must be self-confident to pursue their own ideas or approaches. To change research direction, especially when one is comfortable and successful in another venture, requires a faith in one’s own abilities, and this is a struggle for many. Humility is equally valuable if a researcher is to trust published results in the classical literature. Humility is also required to accept that something is amiss in one’s ideas or wrong with one’s data.



What support and policies must our institutions provide for researchers? All researchers need the confidence of their institutions, supervisors, and colleagues in order to move into uncharted waters. The proper instruments and infrastructure, usually provided by external funding and university endowments, are obviously critical to experimental scientists. The challenge is to avoid the entitlement of the already privileged; difficult choices need to be made at federal agencies and on campus for funding to be allocated in fair yet effective ways. Beyond the physical necessities, intellectual and emotional encouragement from colleagues is vital. This is the important intangible of institutional culture that must be nurtured.

我们的机构必须为研究人员提供哪些支持和政策?所有研究人员都需要他们的机构、主管和同事的信任,才能进入未知的水域。 通常由外部资金和大学捐赠提供的适当工具和基础设施对实验科学家至关重要。其中的挑战在于避免已经享有特权的人得到更多权利;还要在联邦机构和学校之间作出艰难的选择,以便以公平而有效的方式分配资金。除了生活必需品之外,来自同事的智力和情感激励至关重要。这是必须培育的重要的无形制度文化。


I encourage you to ponder these conversations carefully and to recommend them to the next generation of researchers. You will learn much about research and those who do it, just as I did.


Conclusion: Joseph A. Burns encourages us to ponder these conversations, from which we will learn the true meaning of research and those who do it.
文章作者: upupming
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