• Question: How well do you work with other people/do you prefer to work alone?

    Asked by tatooinienne on 26 Nov 2018.
    • Photo: Mary Somerville

      Mary Somerville answered on 26 Nov 2018:

      I tend to work with things other people have produced: I translate things from other languages into English, adding diagrams and extra explanations to make them easier to understand too. I’ve also written books where I’ve tied together lots of different ideas from various people.
      Being a woman, I wasn’t allowed to be part of many of the big societies or universities, where people go to lectures and discuss things; but this did change towards the end of my life.

      For the most part, I work alone, but I do have people I can chat to about things and they give me great encouragement. They also help me by teaching me or providing me books on things that will be useful to what I’m doing next.

    • Photo: Godfrey Harold Hardy

      Godfrey Harold Hardy answered on 26 Nov 2018:

      In my days it was rather uncommon for mathematicians to work together. But that wasn’t how I believed mathematics should be done! And also… How could one work alone while every evening having dinner with such a wonderful researcher and friend as my dear John Edensor Littlewood? I dare say our collaboration was the most productive in mathematical history, and that together we were more than the sum of the two! Ha, I still remember the day when I heard what that old Danish rascal Harald Bohr said: “Nowadays, there are only three really great English mathematicians: Hardy, Littlewood, and Hardy-Littlewood.” Oh, but obviously I cannot forget about the most beautiful years of my life; those that I spent working with my dear Srinivasa Ramanujan. I am proud of my mathematical achievements and I can always claim to have proved lots of beautiful theorems, but without hesitation I can say that Ramanujan’s talent was my greatest discovery of them all. What an exceptionally beautiful mind that man had! Working with him, seeing his mind at work, was the one romantic incident in my life.

    • Photo: Rosalind Franklin

      Rosalind Franklin answered on 27 Nov 2018:

      It rather depends on the person. I ran a group at Birkbeck College and got on very well with them, in particular my colleague Aaron Klug (who sadly died last week at the age of 92) who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1982. But I did not get on with my colleagues at King’s, particularly Maurice Wilkins, and I didn’t particularly like Crick and Watson, who I thought jumped to conclusions ahead of the evidence. (Crick and Watson turned out to be right, of course, but I felt that they should have waited for clearer experimental proof before rushing to publish.)
      Even in my day it was becoming quite difficult to make a real contribution to experimental science as an individual, and nowadays teams of scientists working together are the norm. For example, someone like me who is an expert at getting high-quality X-ray crystallography images, which help to reveal the structure of complex molecules like DNA, may not be so expert at purifying the samples in the first place – so it helps to work with a colleague who is.

    • Photo: Peter Medawar

      Peter Medawar answered on 27 Nov 2018:

      I was famously quite critical of some people’s work, so I think many of the public might think I’d prefer to work alone, but that’s not true! Although I do rather dislike people who think themselves superior, I like nothing more than working within a research group where everyone pitches in with their unique talents. Anyone who becomes a professor quickly learns that scientific techniques move on quickly and soon enough the young lab members leave you behind in terms of the experiments they perform so a good project always needs a good mix of people at different levels!

    • Photo: Stephen Hawking

      Stephen Hawking answered on 27 Nov 2018:

      I worked with a lot of people. In fact most of my work was collaborative in some way or another. I did lots of projects with Kip Thorne, a Noble Prize winner.I co-wrote a lot of books with a few big names and produced a cool fiction series with my daughter. However, part of science, and academia in general, is being able to work on your own. Lots of my work I did by myself. But an important aspect of modern science is not only convincing other scientists that your work is worthwhile and correct, but also showing that your research deserves funding.
      Being personable and collegiate is a good step into making people easier to budge when persuading people 😀

      Good Question!

    • Photo: Francis Crick

      Francis Crick answered on 28 Nov 2018:

      I work well both alone and with other people. When I discovered the structure of DNA I was working with my friend and research partner James Watson along with Rosalind Franklin and other research scientist. The work I do research items normally involves working in the lab as a group to try and solve science issues or mysteries as to why things occur.

    • Photo: Alan Turing

      Alan Turing answered on 28 Nov 2018:

      Even if I would solve maths problems on my own, I couldn’t have got where I did without the help of the team at Bletchley Park to help crack codes, and the contribution of other wartime codebreakers e.g. from Poland.