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May 05, 2008

Hamming: "You and your research"

Richard Hamming was a great mathematician and scientist. He is perhaps best known for developing the "Hamming code", a linear one-bit error-correcting code, widely used in computer RAM.

On 7 March 1986 he gave a talk in the Bell Communications Research Colloquia Series, entitled "You and Your Research". It was transcribed by J. F. Kaiser. It is an insightful discussion of his years of study of the traits of scientists, their work habits, attitudes, etc., that seem to affect whether they make significant contributions. I strongly urge all scholars to read this essay.

One of his interesting, and perhaps surprising, observations: "One of the characteristics of successful scientists is having courage." "If you think you can’t, almost surely you are not going to."

Another interesting point: to do important work, you have to be working on important problems. And at the very least, you need to be constantly asking what are the important problems?

Posted by jmm at May 5, 2008 11:19 PM

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