The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

Seven Lessons for Future Researchers

By Dr. Lawrence Haddad
2018 World Food Prize Laureate

While I was attending the World Food Prize events a few weeks ago, I was asked to speak to the latest group of Borlaug Fellows, young scientists from around the world who come to the US to do research at universities all over the country. As an experienced researcher, I was asked to pass on some of my own learnings over the years.  I had 7 minutes to convey 7 points, and here they are. 

  1. Become an expert of your own context.  This will give you an authenticity and a grounded-ness that will serve you well throughout your career.  No one will know your terrain better than you, and you can keep going to it to ground the various ideas and concepts that you will be exposed to. 

  2. Link the on-the-ground picture to the big picture.  Read widely and think as hard about what are the right questions to answer as about how to actually answer them.  Often we spend too much time answering the wrong question because we don’t step back and focus on the big picture. 

  3. In answering questions, don’t tolerate anything less than excellence.  Excellence is what gets you taken seriously. But don’t confuse excellence with perfection. There is an optimal level of excellence for each situation. Striving for perfection is rarely necessary. 

  4. Work hard.  Be relentless.  Learn your craft.  There are no shortcuts.  If you come from outside Europe and North America, excellence will count for even more because sometimes you will not get the benefit of the doubt or be heard as well; researchers from the US and Europe tend to dominate the development discourse.

  5. Be generous with your ideas, data and co-authorships.  It might not seem like the smart thing to do career-wise in the short term, but it is for the long term.  Your academic circles will be small, at least at first, and you need to work together with people, and at the very least, not make enemies. Big advances come from working together, so figure out how to do it. 

  6. Stay focused on who is the boss. Your ultimate boss is not your departmental chair or your supervisor or even your research funder. Your ultimate bosses are the people whose lives you are trying to improve through your research.  It helps to remember this when we are sometimes sweating the small stuff and it helps us remember why we got into this field in the first place when things are tough.

  7. Don’t leave change to chance.  If you want your work to make a difference, find out how change happens in your context.  Who needs what information, in what form, at what time. These 4 things need to be figured out — and you need to connect the dots."

11/04/2019 8:00 AM |Add a comment |Comments (5)
A very good one. This is going to assist me a lot

Nkwah Beatrice | | 11/20/2019 7:31 PM
Yes very good advice, thank you. Change is possible and will happen but the journey in between can be bitterly hard at times

Pat Mc Mahon | http://mothers first | 11/12/2019 4:35 AM
Identify your real immediate beneficiaries for whom you are going to work. Identify your target Community members (Women, youth, etc)

Endale Abera | | 11/05/2019 2:57 PM

seetharam annadana | | | 11/04/2019 7:08 PM
Great advise! Wish I got this advise 20 years ago, especially #s 6 and 7. Thanks Dr. Haddad!

Dr. Dianah R. Ngonyama | | 11/04/2019 3:33 PM
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