Twenty Best Books for Researchers

Eva Lantsoght
6 apr ’17

Are you looking for an inspiring read, and that can benefit your career as a researcher? For those of you who follow my blog, you may have noticed from my Goodreads profile, that I am an avid reader. I read both fiction and non-fiction, and of course, I actively work towards keeping up with the scientific output in my field.

Needless to tell you, my love for the written word is large. Therefore, it is my pleasure today to share with you a list of twenty books that I recommend for researchers:

1. Building a Successful Career in Scientific Research: A Guide for PhD Students and Postdocs by Phil Dee

Phil Dee wrote about life as a scientist since 2000 as a columnist for Science's Next Wave. This book is a fast and entertaining read, that focuses on tips and quick wins to help you move your career forward.

2. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Part memoir, part non-fiction book about trees - this book gives you an insight in the life and work of Hope Jahren. Especially if you carry out experimental work, this book is for you. Dr. Jahren built up a lab three times, resettling at universities as her career meandered - and there is both tons of honesty and wisdom in this book.

3. On Writing: A memoir of the craft by Stephen King

On Writing is a classic read about writing. Combined with the memoir of one of the most successful authors, there is plenty of advice about writing and how to develop your writing in this book. The good, the bad, and the ugly of writing all are part of this book. Entertaining and insightful.

4. Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson

Walter Isaacson is an incredibly gifted biography writer. Besides Einstein's biography, I've read Franklin's and Jobs' biographies, and the ease with which Isaacson finds the right voice for each different book is impressive. Aside from the quality of this writing, there is also the topic: the life and work of Einstein, one of the most iconic scientists ever to live. A must-read for every scientist.

5. An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth by Chris Hadfield

Who's not fascinated by astronauts? Their combination of scientific savvy and pioneering spirit make many children and adults wonder what it is like to be an astronaut. Col. Hadfield talks about his adventures as an astronaut (he has logged close to 4000 hours in space), but also leaves plenty of space for reflection and advice for life on earth.

6. So Good They Can't Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love by Cal Newport

Regardless of your career choice, So Good They Can't Ignore You is splendid advice on how to build up a solid career (the short answer: do the work, do all the hard work). Since Cal Newport is an academic himself, there are plenty of examples from academia on successful careers of researchers, and which choices were crucial for their success.

7. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam

I'm a huge fan of Laura Vanderkam's method of analyzing time based on chunks of 168 hours (one week). I, too, think of my time in chunks of a week, and plan all my activities on a weekly basis, using a weekly template. 168 hours is about more than just time management. Some of her advice may not be suited for those of us with low incomes (hiring services, for example), but the general idea of how to track your time and then optimize the way you spend it, is universally applicable.

8. The Talent Code: Unlocking the Secret of Skill in Sports, Art, Music, Math, and Just About Everything Else by Daniel Coyle

Daniel Coyle asked himself what it really takes to get good at something. Your first reaction could be: you have to practice. But the way in which you practice, with deep concentration, called "deliberate practice" is what really moves skill forward. The main idea of applying deliberate practice is valid for all fields: whether you want to learn to play the violin, or learn to code software. If you want insight in how you develop skills, this book is for you.

9. Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science-and the World by Rachel Swaby

An inspiring read consisting of short profiles of 52 female scientists that did breakthrough research, but that are generally not very well-known. I recommend this book for both men and women: not just to learn about the contributions of women in science and inspire aspiring female scientists, but also to learn about the significant contributions these women made.

10. A Scholar's Guide to Getting Published in English: Critical Choices and Practical Strategies by Mary Jane Curry, Theresa Lillis

If English is not your native language, this book will help you reflect upon your use of language for your academic work. Through this reflection, you will be able to improve your English academic writing. This book is not so much of a how-to guide, or a language course - it assumes you manage the level of academic English required to publish. The interesting element of this book is its reflection on our use of language: when do we publish in our native language, and when do we select English?

11. Open Up Study Skills: The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research by Marian Petre, Gordon Rugg

This book covers all the things you want somebody to tell you when you start an academic career, but that nobody ever bothered telling you. Reading this book feels like sitting down for a cup of coffee with a senior PhD student or a post-doc, and learning all the ins and outs of life in academia. If you are a PhD student, I highly recommend you read this book.

12. Mastering Your Phd: Survival And Success In The Doctoral Years And Beyond by Patricia Gosling, Lambertus D. Noordam

The first book I ever read about doing research, and I still recommend it to every first year PhD student. While the chapters are rather short, this book gives an excellent introduction into PhD research, and all the steps you can expect to go through. In my first year, we all received this book as a welcome gift at university, and it helped me shape my expectations and planning.

13. Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard Feynman

The autobiography of Richard Feynman is a joy to read. Not only does he combine observations about how to do research when you are stuck (start with something, do something, and eventually your ideas will move forward), he also describes his endless curiosity (which takes us along with him through the world of science, strip clubs, and playing bongo in Brazil), and the depression he felt after working on nuclear weapons. If your friends and family think your choice for a career in science is boring, this book may convince them of the opposite.

14. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg

Sheryl Sandberg talks about her career, how she combines everything (marriage, motherhood, career), and her insights and advice on the challenges women face on the workfloor. While not immediately dealing with academic positions, there is plenty advice for young female researchers in this book who want to lean in to their careers.

15. The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte

The most powerful way to share data and research insights with the rest of the world is through visuals. Tufte teaches you how to show data in the clearest way. If you never took a class that used this book (or any other book by Edward Tufte), you should order all four Tufte books, and read them. Your presentations, posters, and figures in written documents will improve significantly.

16. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

It's not a secret that academia has relatively more introverts than other workplaces. Still, extroverted is the norm in our society. Susan Cain explores introversion, its advantages, and gives advice on how introverts can honor themselves in their work and careers, and take advantage of their typical traits.

17. Are You Fully Charged?: The 3 Keys to Energizing Your Work and Life by Tom Rath

While I didn't find new ideas in this book when I read it, Are You Fully Charged is a good introduction to the basic concepts of improving your health and well-being. If you currently are not taking proper care of yourself, pick up this book for a brief introduction on how to do better in this regard. Yes, you probably know that you should exercise, eat, and sleep. This book can serve as good reminder on why taking care of yourself is important, and give you practical advice. It's a nice and easy read, too.

18. Focus: A Simplicity Manifesto in the Age of Distraction by Leo Babauta

Finding yourself often distracted during work? Is the internet always calling for your attention? This book is dedicated to focus: how to find more focus, how to cultivate your focus, and how to get rid of distractions that stand between you and your focus.

19. The Shadow Scholar: How I Made a Living Helping College Kids Cheat by Dave Tomar

If you are teaching, you probably should read this book. The writing is not excellent (even though the author spent years writing the essays and homeworks of lazy students), but the information in this book is important. As a teacher, you need to be aware of the entire academic shadow industry out there, and see how you can tailor your assignments so that you don't leave much space for cheating.

20. Debunking Handbook by John Cook

If your cousin announces over the Christmas dinner that vaccinations are harmful, or your neighbor laughs at your hybrid car because climate change is a hoax, don't get upset about their lack of insight in scientific research. Instead, download this book - it is a freely available guide that teaches you how to debunk the broscience out there.

Bonus: The PhD e-book: Top PhD Advice from Start to Finish

AcademicTransfer and PhD Talk worked together on this e-book to give you a short guide full of information for your PhD, and with practical information for those of you who move to the Netherlands for their PhD studies.

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