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Serendipity and spontaneity – Critical components in 40 years of academia

Langhans, Wolfgang
Physiology & behavior 2019 v.204 pp. 76-85
scientists, students, teams, technicians
I was flattered and felt tremendously honored to receive the 2018 Distinguished Career Award (DCA) from SSIB, the society that I always considered my scientific home, my family. Preparing the award lecture, I reflected about defining features of my career. This paper summarizes this very personal retrospective. As you will read, serendipity and more or less spontaneous decisions; i.e., some luck to be in the right place at the right time, and spontaneity to grab an opportunity when it presented itself, played a major role, and not necessarily a thorough analysis of my life situation at various junctions of my career path. Luck also often had the name of a fantastic tutor or mentor, or came in the form of enlightening discussions with a friend. Science is teamwork, which emphasizes how important collaborators, post-docs, students and technicians are. Although deep thinking was not necessarily crucial for my career path, a thorough examination is of course necessary when analyzing data, which were often most important when they did not confirm my hypothesis. Science is also hard work considering how much time one spends, but it never seemed like work to me because I had always this desire to find out how things in the organism work, and I always felt privileged to be able to pursue my “hobby” and even get a decent pay for it. In short, being a scientist is probably one of the most rewarding professional activities that life can offer.