Your 'big break' can happen at any point of your career, Boston researchers say

It takes "deliberate practice," though, to increase your odds of attaining success.

Your 'big break' can happen at any point of your career, Boston researchers say

Scientists can have their big break any point in their career. A paper published in the journal Science in 2016 determined that from a big data analysis on scientific careers from 1893 to 2010.

The research team, led by Roberta Sinatra and Albert-László Barabási of Northeastern University, determined that a scientist can make a lasting impact with their research from the very first published paper to the very last. There is no definite trajectory for success, and every successful scientist's career is a mix of skill, persistence, and luck.

The research team figured all that out by analyzing publication information from scientists who published papers between 1893 to 2010. Those data points began with 236,884 physicist publications and expanded to 24,630 Google Scholar profiles and 514,896 publications across seven scientific disciplines “from physics to chemistry, economics to cognitive science," according to the Northeastern press release.

Credit: Kim Albrecht / Northeastern University

They crunched all of that data and came up with a productivity quotient or “Q." “The Q factor cap­tures a com­bi­na­tion of ability, edu­ca­tion, and knowl­edge… how good is a sci­en­tist at picking an idea and turning it into a discovery," Barabási explains in the press release. “A high Q com­bined with con­tinued efforts pro­vide a fore­cast of what's to come. We cannot pre­dict when a big hit will come, but by exam­ining Q — a stable factor — we can pre­dict that one will likely come in the future," Sinatra adds later. Here's an example of what that might look like:

The publication history of two Nobel laureates, Frank A. Wilczek (Nobel Prize in Physics, 2004) and John B. Fenn (Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2002), illustrating that the highest-impact work can be, with the same probability, anywhere in the sequence of papers published by a scientist.

The probability of a scientist's first paper being enormously impactful is exactly the same as their last paper being enormously impactful. As the study authors write, “We find that the highest-impact work in a scientist's career is randomly distributed within her body of work. That is, the highest-impact work can be, with the same probability, anywhere in the sequence of papers published by a scientist." That probability remains regardless of discipline, career length, “working in different decades, and publishing solo or with teams and whether credit is assigned uniformly or unevenly among collaborators," according to the study.

“The composition of this Q quality, whatever you call it, is likely to vary in different fields," Dr. Dean Simonton of the University of California, Davis told The New York Times about the Northeastern study. “That's why you can see people who are highly successful in one field switch careers and not do so well."

The biggest factor for success? “Pro­duc­tivity and the will to keep trying that cor­re­sponds with great dis­cov­eries, whether the sci­en­tist is 20, 40, or even 70," explains Northeastern. “What mat­ters is not the timing of dis­cov­eries that could affect future gen­er­a­tions but that they hap­pened... under­standing that good sci­en­tists, if they have the resources to stay pro­duc­tive, could gen­erate future big dis­cov­eries, inde­pen­dent of age, is essen­tial for us to move for­ward in thinking about how to boost sci­ence."

And if they can do it, you can, too.

The scientists are essentially cultivating the habit of “deliberate practice," or pushing yourself slightly beyond your skill level. By utilizing deliberate practice every time you want to get better at something — from building a business to learning a language to writing that novel for NaNoWriMo — you increase your skill levels. You will most likely fail, but you'll learn how to overcome that obstacle and push past it next time. That creates an atmosphere for success, as author David Shenk told us:

So remember: the next time you want to succeed at something, keep trying. Or, as Barabási put it for The Times, “The bottom line is: Brother, never give up. When you give up, that's when your creativity ends."

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CRISPR therapy cures first genetic disorder inside the body

It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.

Credit: National Cancer Institute via Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.

For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.

The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.

The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.

One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.

Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.

Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).

Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.

A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.

We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.

—JENNIFER DOUDNA

"This is a major milestone for patients," Jennifer Doudna, co-developer of CRISPR, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR.

"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.

What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.

The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.

A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.

This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.

—FYODOR URNOV

If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.

Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.

"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."

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