I'm doing a bit of informal research about scientists. I would like to know if scientists, at least in the hard sciences, can be categorized according to their working style. And if so, what are some of the different categories?

For example, one might be a conservative researcher who likes to clean up theories, while another might be more of a visionary who likes to explore new frontiers. Another might like data collection. Another may like to teach and mentor. Yet another might be gifted at communication.

I have an idea for forming a collaborative network based around this, which is why I'm asking.


I think it would be helpful to quality the kind of categorization I have mentioned above:

By no means am I suggesting forcefully and artificially imposing a category onto a researcher, like tagging their profiles with keywords. I meant it more in a way that is similar to how economic preferences work -- i.e. almost as a kind of self-selection. In other words, would scientists be ok with describing themselves as having more of one quality than another, just purely stated as a preference. If these preferences could be elucidated and made explicit, it would foster greater collaboration, and therefore would add value to any collaboration network.

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    You probably can think up as many characteristics as you like. One likes coffee, the other tea. One has good ideas under the shower, the other while discussing with students. There's no deductive framework which would impose a certain set of categories. Commented May 7, 2019 at 13:36
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    @Jobevo, ok, tea/coffee really aren't examples of working style. However, I fear the notion of working style is so broad as to allow a lot of arbitrary categories for comparing researchers. For useful answers, I guess your question needs to be a bit more specific. Commented May 7, 2019 at 13:46
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    I find your 'categories' pretty arbitrary as well. People are, well, complex. Their role in any network is not defined by a limited number of check boxes.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 13:53
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    It sounds like you're trying to reinvent Meyers-Briggs. Shudder.
    – JeffE
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 14:32
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    In the specific case of pure mathematics it is fairly well known that many researchers tend to be either "problem solvers" or "theory builders" (there are many exceptions, of course), but I doubt this can be usefully extended to science research in general (where other issues come into play). William Timothy Gowers published a nice essay about this in 2000 --- The two cultures of mathematics --- and googling its title will lead you to a lot of online discussions about it, discussions that might be marginally relevant to your question. Commented May 7, 2019 at 17:48

1 Answer 1


I started this off as a comment, but I think I'll try to put it in an answer instead.

I categorize researchers into "Could see myself working together with them" and "I don't think our styles mash". Note that this a completely different and independent from my categorization into "I think they are good researchers" and "I don't think they are good researchers". (For one, I would't even consider somebody in terms of potential collaboration if I didn't think they fit my definition of "good researcher".)

Besides a researchers style, each researcher has their own individual strengths (and weaknesses). I mention as I would attribute some of the things you mention to individual's strengths, rather than style. Here, I would count things such as verbal communication skills, written communication skills, admin and bureaucracy skills (it is amazing to have a collaborator that can easily approve an unexpected expense!), industrial contacts (and a related skill of talking about research to people outside of academia). Note that I am making a difference between "having good verbal communication skills" (skill) and "having a communication style that I like" (style).

The point is: there are just too many factors to "categorize" researchers, and besides unnecessarily creating divides and "boxes" for people, even in your head, sounds a bit counter-productive.

Instead - figure out what you like, and which environment suits you best. For all potential collaborators, see how well they fit with your style, and make a separate decision for every person in your professional network. It is rare that a single person will tick all your boxes if you make it a matter of ticking boxes (i.e. the preferred communication style, preferred communication frequency and medium, complementary strengths, personality match, etc) - but if you figure out which "style of collaborator" suits you the best, you can start looking for a person you would enjoy working with (despite their possible shortcomings).

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    Probably that's the pragmatically most useful distinction. Commented May 7, 2019 at 13:55
  • @henning And at least in my opinion, the only "categorization" of people (or researchers) one should be doing. As one of the comments to the question notes, people are complex.
    – penelope
    Commented May 7, 2019 at 14:03

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