Cover image for Advice for a young investigator
Advice for a young investigator
Ramón y Cajal, Santiago, 1852-1934.
Uniform Title:
Reglas y consejos sobre investigacion cientifica. English
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass : MIT Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xx, 150 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
"A Bradford book."
Subject Term:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Q180.A1 R33313 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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An anecdotal guide for the perplexed new investigator as well as a refreshing resource for the old pro, covering everything from valuable personality traits for an investigator to social factors conducive to scientific work.

Santiago Ramón y Cajal was a mythic figure in science. Hailed as the father of modern anatomy and neurobiology, he was largely responsible for the modern conception of the brain. His groundbreaking works were New Ideas on the Structure of the Nervous System and H istology of the Nervous System in Man and Vertebrates . In addition to leaving a legacy of unparalleled scientific research, Cajal sought to educate the novice scientist about how science was done and how he thought it should be done. This recently rediscovered classic, first published in 1897, is an anecdotal guide for the perplexed new investigator as well as a refreshing resource for the old pro.

Cajal was a pragmatist, aware of the pitfalls of being too idealistic--and he had a sense of humor, particularly evident in his diagnoses of various stereotypes of eccentric scientists. The book covers everything from valuable personality traits for an investigator to social factors conducive to scientific work.

Author Notes

Santiago Ramon y Cajal was among Spain's greatest scientists. A century ago, his work laid the foundations for the field of modern neuroanatomy. In 1906 Ramon y Cajal shared the Nobel Prize with the Italian anatomist Camillo Golgi for the development of the revolutionary neuron theory, which established the neuron as the basic unit of the nervous system. Born in Petila de Aragon in rural northeastern Spain, Ramon y Cajal was a bright but restless child and a poor student. His father, a surgeon, apprenticed him to a barber and later to a carpenter because he showed little academic promise. Both of these apprenticeships were failures. Surprisingly, Ramon y Cajal was admitted to the medical school at the University of Zaragoza, graduating in 1873. Upon receiving his license to practice medicine, he went to Cuba and worked as an army surgeon. In 1875 Ramon y Cajal returned to Spain, married, and became a professor at the University of Zaragoza. There, he began his neuroanatomical research, which became his main interest. Soon after, he was promoted to the rank of Extraordinary Professor and then to the directorship of the University's Medical Museum. In 1887 he became Extraordinary Professor at the University of Barcelona. In the following year, he published his first significant work on the nervous system, an analysis of the structure and development of the cerebral cortex. In 1892 Ramon y Cajal accepted the position of chairman of the Department of Histology and Pathological Anatomy at the University of Madrid. In 1922 he formally retired from the University but continued to conduct research, teach, and write his final book, The World Seen at Eighty: Impressions of an Ateriosclerotic. (Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 1

Booklist Review

Composed a century ago, this author's counsel remains pertinent to young students considering a scientific career. Ramon y Cajal, a Spanish neurologist whose claim on fame is his discovery of the synapse, explores the desire for fame as one of several motivations necessary to becoming a scientist. He maintains that renown will elude the student if the traits of the scientific temperament he describes are not cultivated. Perhaps surprisingly, Ramon y Cajal disparages high intellect as the prerequisites to becoming a genuine scientist; anyone with average acuity has the potential. More important than pure genius are habits of mind that facilitate the discovery of some truth about nature. Thought must be concentrated and continuous, over a period of years in most cases, to solve a problem at hand; and a problem won't yield its secret unless the investigator is powerfully determined and undeterred by setbacks. Having thus described his ideal scientist, Ramon y Cajal then contrasts him unfavorably to archetypical scientists: the "bibliophile" and the "theorist." Welcome wisdom at last available in English. --Gilbert Taylor

Table of Contents

Forewordp. vii
Preface to the second editionp. xiii
Preface to the third editionp. xvii
Preface to the fourth editionp. xix
1. Introductionp. 1
Thoughts about general methods
Abstract rules are sterile
Need to enlighten the mind and strengthen resolve
Organization of the book
2. Beginner's Trapsp. 9
Undue admiration of authority
The most important problems are already solved
Preoccupation with applied science
Perceived lack of ability
3. Intellectual Qualitiesp. 29
Independent judgment
Passion for reputation
Taste for scientific originality
4. What Newcomers to Biological Research Should Knowp. 53
General education
The need for specialization
Foreign languages
How monographs should be read
The absolute necessity of seeking inspiration in nature
Mastery of technique
In search of original data
5. Diseases of the Willp. 75
Bibliophiles and polyglots
Instrument addicts
6. Social Factors Beneficial to Scientific Workp. 89
Material support
Having a profession and doing research work are compatible
The investigator and his family
7. Stages of Scientific Researchp. 111
Working hypotheses
8. On Writing Scientific Papersp. 125
Justification for scientific contributions
Justice and courtesy in decisions
Description of methods
The need for illustrations
The publication of scientific works
9. The Investigator as Teacherp. 137