Richard Hamming is not a household name. As a long-time Bell Labs scientist, Hamming made lasting impacts on mathematics, computer science, and engineering. He also gave one of the best talks I have come across for anyone pursuing/interested in pursuing a career in science. This talk, titled "You and Your Research" was presented to the Bell Communications Research Colloquium Seminar on 7 March 1986. It could be titled "How to do Great Research".
Hamming first discusses his motivation:
At Los Alamos I was brought in to run the computing machines which other people had got going, so those scientists and physicists could get back to business. I saw I was a stooge. I saw that although physically I was the same, they were different. And to put the thing bluntly, I was envious. I wanted to know why they were so different from me. I saw Feynman up close. I saw Fermi and Teller. I saw Oppenheimer. I saw Hans Bethe: he was my boss. I saw quite a few very capable people. I became very interested in the difference between those who do and those who might have done.Hamming found that the major difference between good and great is largely one of attiHe summarizes his findings:
In summary, I claim that some of the reasons why so many people who have greatness within their grasp don't succeed are: they don't work on important problems, they don't become emotionally involved, they don't try and change what is difficult to some other situation which is easily done but is still important, and they keep giving themselves alibis why they don't.In other words, ask yourself three questions:
1. What are the most important problems in your field?
2. Are you working on one of them?
3. Why not?