Over the years, I’ve received small pieces of advice and words of wisdom from family members, teachers, professors, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances. I suspect many of these people didn’t think they were saying anything profound at the time, and if asked, they likely don’t even recall our conversation. But these are phrases that I circle back to, perhaps not every day, but certainly several times a year. As I grow older, I find myself quoting these phrases more and more to my students, children, and colleagues, one of whom recently remarked that the first saying below was the best professional advice he ever received. And so, I wanted to take a moment and jot them down before, one day, they get lost underneath a pile of mental rubbish. I’m confident that I don’t recall their exact wording, but I’m sure I’ve captured the point of what they were saying because of the known impact they have had on my life. And while most of these phrases are from everyday people with whom I have crossed paths, I have also included a few famous quotes that may not be the most inspiring in the world, but certainly shaped who I am as both a scientist and a person.
If you want to get good, surround yourself by people better than you.
If you don’t like what you’re doing, why are you doing it?
John, you sound like you’re winging this. Don’t do that.
Did you win a Nobel today? No? Good, then go back to work tomorrow.
Nobody can acquire honor by doing what is wrong.
A pat on the back is nice every now and again, but don't let it go to your head.
We need to educate students to work with their hands as much as we educate them to work with their minds.
There will always be someone who is smarter than you, faster than you, and stronger than you. But never let anyone work harder than you.
If it was easy, it would have been done already.
Pick your battles.
I often say that when you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it; but when you cannot measure it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind.
No matter how good you are, there will always be someone better.
If you don't break anything, you aren't trying hard enough.
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