The Human Side of Science: Scientific Personality Assessment in Action

By Samantha Black, PhD, ScienceBoard editor in chief

Over 900 scientists participated in our Scientific personality assessment where they determined if they are a(n): Organizer (39%), Leader (28%), Enthusiast (17%), Explorer(15%). The Science Advisory Board determined that there is no archetypal personality type, but rather that scientists are diverse with unique strengths that help build a strong scientific community.

We would like to thank all the individuals who participated in The Science Advisory Board’s Scientific Personality Assessment and hope that you see value and gain insight from your results. To give you an example of how you might you this information in real life situations, we have provided you with some scenarios where you might have to interact with different personalities. The full report can be downloaded at the bottom of this post.

Situation #1

Your advisor has co-assigned a task to you and a friendly-but disheveled scientist (Alex) in another lab. When you finally set a time to meet to discuss the details. Alex showed up 15 minutes late to your meeting and didn’t prepare for the meeting. After several hours, you have a plan of action and agreed upon responsibilities for an experiment to run over the next 2 weeks. During this period, Alex was unreliable but was always apologetic and eager to talk about the results of the experiment. At the end of the experiment when you both meet with your advisor to discuss the project, Alex engages your advisor in small talk for 15 minutes without any mention of the experiment and when you suggest that you start discussing the project, Alex brings up all of their contributions and successes within the project without mention of you or your effort to pick up their slack in order to complete the experiment on time and without any major flaws.

Your Reaction

If you are an enthusiast: You try to understand where Alex is coming from. Even if you feel that the workload was uneven, you do not say anything because so long as the end result was successful, there is no reason for you to make a big deal out of it. You know that you did more work than Alex, but you are still proud that you were able to complete the project.

If you are a leader: You viewed this project as a challenge and are happy that the end result was positive. However, you would like credit for all of the extra work that you did in order to complete the project. In order to show your success and convince your advisor you are the reason the experiment was successful, you may draw conclusions beyond what you and Alex have discussed previously.

If you are an organizer: You are upset when Alex starts talking about how successful the experiment was, when there were so many things that did not go according to plan, even if the overall project was a success. You may bring up the fact that several things were not completed according to protocols and standard procedures and you will want to place the blame on Alex for dropping the ball on the project.

Alex Is An Explorer. They are outgoing and sociable, but are poor listeners and often monopolize conversations. They are visionaries and full of great ideas, but they lose focus quickly and get bored easily. Ultimately, it is important to remember that explorers are big picture thinkers and best to try to appreciate their ideas and other contributions.


Situation #2

You're in the library after just completing an experiment and decide to share some of your preliminary findings with a lab mate (Sam) who happens to be in the library at the same time as you. You decide to do this because you are having difficulty interpreting a specific portion of the data. Sam agrees to look at your data but as soon as they look at the data, they start drawing conclusions and interpreting the data based on research that they have done, which is very different from your research. They go as far to suggest that you are doing the wrong analysis and you wasted your time with your current methodology. They state that they did an alternative analysis and it was successful and they think it should be the standard for all projects. In the end, Sam did not even answer your question, but instead instilled doubt that you might be doing the wrong research.

Your Reaction

If you are an enthusiast: Having someone poke holes in your experiment will probably upset you since you are proud of the work that you have done. However, with a collaborative spirit, you consider Sam’s ideas and trust that they may just be trying to help you.

If you are an explorer: Because you like challenging conversations and discussing new possibilities, you may take Sam’s comments as a chance to brainstorm ideas for the future and ways to improve. Your competitiveness may come out and you might be annoyed that there was potentially a better way to run the experiment. Instead of resenting this, you move past it quickly and work towards future innovations.

If you are an organizer: You may be upset that this Sam has taken your work and started making it their own. You have done your background research on this experiment and feel confident that your protocols were correct and you judge Sam for his out-of-the-box thinking. Having someone question your work bothers you and you might have difficulty moving onto the next project because Sam cast doubt on your methodology and results.

Sam is a Leader. In healthy situations, leaders will have the respect and trust of their colleagues. However, in other cases, leaders can be interpreted as aggressive and overbearing. Leaders ultimately want to be successful, so instead of viewing their comments as personal attacks, it can be helpful to remember that they are seeking overall success of projects and not necessarily attacking your methods or personal qualities.


Situation #3

You come into the lab one morning, expecting to conduct routine analysis that you have planned and scheduled with your lab manager (Jamie). However, when you approach the bench to prep your samples, a colleague from a different department is already running their samples and is in the middle of their workflow. There is only one set of equipment located within the facility, and since someone else is currently using it, your workday has been effectively rendered useless. You decide to talk to Jamie about what happened. Jamie said that the colleague told them that they really needed the equipment on that day and threatened to go above their head if they did not grant them access. Not wanting to lose their job and seeking to keep the peace, they agreed. Jamie apologized immensely and offered to help you with your analysis to make up for the inconvenience.

Your Reaction

If you are a leader: Since this inconvenience may affect the success or timing of success of your project, you will want to step in and immediately manage the situation by telling Jamie what they should have done differently, without truly listening to their side of the story. You may even feel compelled to take over responsibility of scheduling because of this incident. Ultimately you put your energy towards making alternative plans to stay on track.

If you are an explorer: You walk right up to your colleague and engage them in conversation about their research and why they needed to use the equipment so urgently. You have a deep conversation about how you can utilize this technique to gain new insights into your research and are excited about it. You aren’t really bothered by the mix up, you can always schedule another time to do your bench work.

If you are an organizer: You might want to argue with Jamie that you scheduled your time in advance and that you had already made preparations that will be wasted due to this incident. You will want to judge Jamie as personally acting against you and bothered that your work will be set behind schedule. But after considering all of the facts, you realize that as long as the integrity of your data is not impacted, everything will turn out alright.

Jamie is an Enthusiast. As likeable and loyal people, enthusiasts may have difficulty pleasing everyone in any given situation. However, they will make up for this my trying to fix things and advocating for their team. Enthusiasts avoid conflict at all costs and like to collaborate. Use this to your advantage, and know that if you are inconvenienced, they will still be on your side at the end of the day.


Situation #4

You are attending a scientific conference and are presenting your research. You think that your presentation goes pretty well and when you get to the Q&A portion, you handle most of the questions with professionally knowledgeability and curtesy. However, an audience member (Quinn) asks a question about your methodology and you don’t know the exact answer. You are polite in your response and your presentation ends. After the session is over Quinn approaches you and begins questioning you about your techniques. They state that they conduct similar research and they think they you may have made a vital mistake in one of your calculations that would change the interpretation of your results. As they are speaking to you they give you citations for various techniques that they have explored and tested. Quinn comes across as slightly judgemental of your research but you can tell that they have done all of this work themselves and is extremely dedicated to the accuracy and precision approaches to data.

Your Reaction

If you are an enthusiast: You appreciate how knowledgeable Quinn in about your area of research and are eager to learn from what they are saying. You are proud of the work that you have done, but you are open to collaborating and discussing new ways to approach problems. You end up agreeing to a future collaboration with Quinn even though it will require more effort beyond your normal responsibilities and is outside your area of expertise.

If you are an explorer: You are excited to talk to people after your presentation is over. To you, sharing ideas and innovative approaches. After Quinn gets done with their initial comments, you jump right in and start discussing some additional ideas you have been contemplating, which you have been waiting to share with anyone who will listen. It doesn’t matter much that your ideas are related to a future research project that has little to do with the topic of your presentation or the points that Quinn was making. Once you take a moment to catch your breath, you realize you been talking nonstop for 15 minutes (and you have a bunch of new ideas to share with other people now!)

If you are a leader: Defending your work and wanting to win an argument, you may be focused on downplaying or finding flaws in the things that Quinn is saying to you. At the end of the day, you are confident in your research and methodology. It doesn’t bother you much because you are looking to the future and Quinn has not impacted your ability to achieve your goals.

Quinn is an Organizer. Focused on accuracy, precision, and pragmatism, organizers can come across as uptight and judgemental or even unfeeling. They have difficulty seeing other people’s point of view and accepting anything less than perfect. If you can move past this potential threats, organizers are very dependable and independent individuals who will always come through in a pinch.

>The Human Side of Science: Scientific Personality Assessment

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