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The island was about as far from biotech as he could get. He’d watched the Alaskan mainland receding beneath him, giving way to the Aleutians with their volcanoes spewing little plumes of dust. After landing on Adak, he’d boarded a boat and spent 56 hours heading west through the Bering Sea, from one sparsely inhabited rock to another. His destination was Attu. Sometimes called the westernmost point in the western hemisphere, it’s so far west that the nearest landmass is the Russian Far East.

For Neil Hayward, the days of travel and nights of seasickness were worth it, because of the birds. They were what field guides call vagrants or accidentals: species that turn up far outside their normal range, unexpected emissaries from another part of the world. Among birders, Attu is famous for them. Records show everything from rustic bunting to Eurasian hobby, white-throated needletail to long-toed stint. “They’ve been blown off course,” Hayward explained. “They’re either lost or they’ve been carried by a storm.”

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  • fun fact:
    very too often I find articles on this, and other, websites about “scientists” with successful careers in biotech. “Scientists”, that when you go and look at their academic research achievements, you find they are less than stellar. Not to say nonexistent. In this specific case, two coauthored articles and none as first author. That make look my CV, out of this world. And wondering how they managed to have a successful career in biotech, among other things.
    Going back to this article; maybe the sense of dissatisfaction and need for a change stems from the fact that they were mediocre scientists, in first instance?
    Or, could we just agree to stop misusing the word scientist?

    • Perhaps what drives success as a scientist in academia — the traits and skills leading to those top-tier first author, then last author publications, grant funding, etc. — aren’t the same as the traits and skills leading to success in biotech.

      As for misusing the word scientist — in the Oxford Living Dictionary, scientist is defined as “A person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences”. No mention of publications, tenure, where you post-doc’d, or any of the other things that your reply implies as definitional to being a scientist.

      Indeed, use of the term scientist doesn’t indicate whether they were good at being a scientist or not.

      Last, being good at something doesn’t mean you want to switch to something else eventually.

      Maybe you should consider replacing your narrow view of what makes one a scientist.

    • spot on. i was that mediocre scientist with handfull of second-third author papers. mid through my phd i realized that, and decided to move into industry.
      the science is like professional sports – you have to be outstanding to have it as a career.

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