by David P.Stern
Keep notes of ideas, lectures and work. Memory fades but what you write down stays yours.
Scan the literature and read what is pertinent - you aren't Feynman. Collect references.
Be lucid and even tutorial in writing your own papers.
Never stop studying. Take time to select the books you study. Seek ones that provide intuitive insights. Solve problems. Make up your own exercises as you go along. They prepare the way for more serious problems.
Don't get drawn into a big project unless you have a clear idea of its final product. Go for the big problems. No one cares about publishable petty results. Learn to smell out good problems.
Never tell yourself you understand when you don't. (How can you know the meaning of F=ma unless you clearly define F and m?) And if you don't understand, struggle to do so. Consult books, friends and common sense. Keep notes.
Don't fear drudgery. Work hard. However, if a piece of calculation leads into an ever-denser thicket, look for a different approach.
Once you understand a derivation, try to divine its intuitive meaning.
Check dimensions and orders of magnitude.
Prepare for every lecture. In writing.
Rehearse ten-minute talks for meetings.
You learn a lot from writing a review article. Also, in the process you are likely to uncover one or two good research ideas worth pursuing.
Give fair credit.
Find a mentor if you can, but don't be surprised if you can't. Good mentors are rare, and everyone is busy. Perhaps you can fill the role for someone else.
Collect bright young people.
Talk to colleagues. Cherish the few who are really interested in your work. Take time to ask the experts. They don't mind and may actually be pleased to display their erudition.
Look for kindred souls. They are few and far between, and nothing is more precious.
Being a physicist is a great privilege. Be worthy of it.
By David P.Stern, in Physics Today (May 1993)