What is “a successful career” in science?

Interestingly, most young and also more mature researchers can not define easily what “a successful career in science” means. This question is highly relevant – for example when looking for a new position, hiring people, defining long-term visions for an institution, developing funding schemes and selecting candidates to be funded.

I have listed here – in random order – a number of indicators which may help to characterize a person, a group or an institution as “successful in science” – however, every single factor is a matter of debate and only a few are easily measurable – open list.

The answer to the question “WHAT DOES A SUCCESFUL CAREER IN SCIENCE MEAN TO ME?”  reflects clearly your (maybe unconscious) opinion about a huge number of personal and societal aspects including:

  1. How do we measure and evaluate performance and success?
  2. Which of these parameters are important for my OWN career?
  3. Where should I work?
  4. Which of these parameters are important for my institution/company?
  5. Which persons do I consider to be successful in science?
  6. Who should be hired?
  7. Who should lead a specific science institution?
  8. Which elements are important for society?
  9. How should we train scientists?
  10. What should be funded?

Therefore, it is useful to discuss these parameters with your peers and to become aware of the unspoken rules and beliefs within yourself and within your institution/company.

To start thinking about these parameters I love to make a little ranking exercise:


Copy the list of indicators into a word file and rank the relevance of these factors for your own life and career. Distinguish between external factors such as “a high hierarchical position” or “an impressive publication list” and internal/emotional factors such as “Doing what I really like”

You may use the table below:


internal external
Highly relevant
Moderately relevant


I find it useful to do this exercise once a year to see how my perspective changes over the years. Enjoy!

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