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Jan 15, 2005 (Vol. 25, No. 2)

The Human Side of Science

What is the Archetypal Researcher Personality

  • Are some personalities better suited than others to a scientific career? To provide insight into this issue, BioInformatics (Arlington, VA), a life science market research firm, created the first-ever psychological profile of life science researchers.

    BioInformatics Scientific Personality Assessment (SPA) adapted the methodologies of various personality tests and used a detailed questionnaire specifically designed to reflect the unique aspects of scientists interests, values, motives, and opinions. The 76-question SPA was fielded to members of The Science Advisory Board, a global, online panel of life science and medical professionals.

    Like other personality tests, the SPA presents a series of descriptors and statements with which the respondents can indicate their level of agreement as to how well a word or statement describes themselves.

    The answers to each of these statements are used to calculate a numerical score by which the respondent can be classified as having a particular type of personality. Each personality type reflects a persons brain dominance and can be used to point to his or her probable style of thinking.

    The left-brain is associated with verbal, logical, and analytical thinking. The right-brain functions in a nonverbal manner; it processes visual, spatial, perceptual, and intuitive information.

    As with other personality tests, the SPA draws inferences as to how each personality types style of thinking will influence their behavior. It should be noted that segmenting scientists into different personality types is not based upon formal statistical analysis.

    While the great majority of respondents expressed high levels of agreement with their personality description, the robustness of this exercise is solely dependent upon honest responses from each participant. Furthermore, an individuals responses to the SPA and other similar personality tests may change over time, either through conscious effort or as a result of a persons experiences and maturation.

    Members of The Science Advisory Board were administered the SPA to self-assess their personality based on adjectives provided and describe their behavior when making a decision, searching for information, reacting to change, and interacting with others. Their answers were analyzed using a proprietary scoring system to group them into one of four personality types: Leader, Enthusiast, Explorer, Organizer.

  • Leader

    These disciplined scientists are best characterized by their ability to guide and manage other researchers. Leaders can be found at all levels of seniority within a lab but their preference is to be in control of projects in which they are involved.

    Leaders are persistent, assertive, independent, structured individuals who enjoy challenging projects. Because of this, they can also be extremely competitive, especially when it comes to being the first to uncover significant findings. They are self-assured and proud of their many scientific achievements.

    Leaders excel at multitasking and prefer fast-paced research environments. They take action immediately, but are sometimes criticized for making decisions too quickly, often relying on their instinct rather than a systematic analysis of the facts.

    Since they are driven to get the job done, leaders can sometimes lack the diplomacy needed to keep everyone informed and involved when working in a group.

    Concerned with achieving their personal goals and dreams, leaders value fellow lab members and suppliers according to their ability to help them in these endeavors. They work best with big picture projects that need to be pushed through with aggressiveness or personal resolve.

    In a dysfunctional research team, they may be resented or even feared because of this aggressiveness and their perceived lack of concern for others feelings. A healthy research team, however, will respect a Leader and give him or her authority and responsibility to fulfill their mission.

    Leaders mandate perfection and are usually easy to get along with, provided that others measure up to the Leaders high expectations.

  • Explorer

    Explorers are the visionaries of the scientific community and are full of novel ideas. Willing to venture into uncharted territories, these individuals live life to the fullest, and usually take an idealistic approach to the research process.

    Explorers are driven by competition and are wholly fascinated with new and exciting ideas and technologies. However, the downside of this is that once the fascination wears away, explorers can quickly lose focus and get bored, yearning for the next exciting challenge.

    These outgoing researchers love to socialize at scientific conferences and enjoy being the center of attention. As a result of their outgoing nature, some may view them as socially aggressive.

    Though explorers probably would not agree, they are often considered by others to be poor listeners as they usually monopolize conversations. They are confident, opinionated, and are not afraid to say what is on their mind.

    In the lab environment, explorers are the motivators of their research team. They excel at networking with fellow scientists and are natural communicators.

    However, explorers can be disorganized and impulsive and can struggle with follow-through and time management, especially when it comes to repeating failed experiments or meeting grant/publication deadlines.

    Explorers tend to attribute their successes to their own strengths and may fail to recognize the important contributions of lab members and suppliers.

  • Enthusiast

    The defining quality of enthusiasts is their motivation to interact with and please others. These sensitive and accommodating individuals effortlessly make friends with other researchers in their field, can easily work on collaborative projects, and are great listeners. Because they are more apt to stay situated in a comfort zone, the enthusiast is resistant to change, steers clear of risk, and avoids conflict with scientific colleagues.

    Enthusiasts are more amiable than other scientific personas and often strive to reach a group consensus when decisions have to be made. As a result, others may perceive them as being unassertive and conformist. Their easy-going nature and lack of ego encourages them to expect and rely on the support of colleagues and suppliers.

    Enthusiasts tend to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves, and in their effort to get along they sometimes find themselves involved in projects or decisions in which they have little interest or no personal stake.

    Enthusiasts are extremely hard workers and take pride in their strong work ethic. Their role in a research team is usually supportive and cooperative; they are viewed by others as dependable, patient, and loyal; an enthusiast is not one to disappoint his or her colleagues.

    Because of their eminent likeability and trustworthiness, enthusiasts excel at negotiating and are effective advocates for their research and lab.

  • Organizer

    Organizers are defined by their methodical, traditional, and pragmatic approach to scientific research. These highly intellectual individuals are soft-spoken and typically refrain from expressing their feelings, not wanting to overtly influence anothers opinion or analysis of experimental results.

    However, this does not mean that an organizer does not feel strongly about the meaning of the data in questionorganizers can be very particular and often judgmental of others, especially when a colleagues assumption contradicts his or her own.

    Organizers thrive on facts and data. Because of the extensive detail they require of any task, organizers prefer to work on only a few research projects at a time. They are extremely cautious decision-makers and have a tendency to analyze problems from multiple angles, but their final analysis is routinely based upon very sound judgment.

    Although organizers are notoriously dependable, they prefer working independently since their desire for order can become problematic in a team environment where everyones opinion counts.

    Other scientific personas may find that The Organizer to be too demanding. Organizers are perfectionists and are bothered by careless mistakes. They become frustrated and sometimes procrastinate when they must make a decision and sufficient facts are not available, or the quality of the available data does not meet their high standards.

    Organizers strive for high levels of accuracy and precision in their own work, and expect the same from colleagues and suppliers.

  • Predicting Behavior

    From an external perspective, segmenting scientists in terms of personality types is useful when the personalities can be used to predict probable consumer behavior. To highlight the differences in this behavior the results of a recent report from BioInformatics, Marketing to Life Scientists, were cross-tabulated with the scientists answers to the Scientific Personality Assessment.

    For example, when queried about how they learn about vendors and their products and services, Leaders indicated that they are more receptive to direct mail than others. They are also less likely to rely on product recommendations from a colleague, which is in contrast to the emphasis Enthusiasts place on their colleagues opinions.

    Organizers prefer printed catalogs while Explorers actively seek out suppliers and their products at scientific meetings and trade-shows.

    When questioned about their attendance at scientific meeting and trade shows, scientists show significant differences by personality type in the kinds of events they favor and the frequency of their attendance.

    Explorers typically attend three or more major meetings a year. They strongly prefer smaller meetings on specialized topics. Enthusiasts go to fewer scientific meetings than any of the other three personalities, but they will spend a greater percentage of their time visiting vendor exhibits.

    While Enthusiasts can be lured to booths by promotional items, Organizers tend to be drawn by technical literature. Leaders, on the whole, spend less time than others visiting exhibitor booths, but are most attracted to exhibits featuring innovative or new technologies and products.

    The descriptions of the four different personality types outlined in this paper include subjective terms, which can be open to multiple interpretations. From a marketing standpoint, personality profiling can be used to shape ad campaigns, Website content and design, and the training of sales people.

    From a professional perspective, it can help scientists understand more about themselves and ultimately, their role and responsibilities within the larger research community. The SPA can aid scientists in evaluating their strengths and assets as well as confront the particular challenges they face in their everyday work life.

    The goal is not to suggest that one personality type is better than another or that having specific character traits will engender more professional success, but rather to encourage people to align their professional aspirations with their own particular blend of expertise and skills.



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