The scientist-as-a-startup

A new approach to scientific research

You don’t need a Ph.D. to see the uncertainty surrounding scientific research. Manuscripts get rejected, grant applications are turned down, and positions are denied — no matter how many hours you put in.

There’s area of work that deals with the same kind of uncertainty, except it’s adopted a methodology to reduce risk as much as possible. I’m talking about startups.

Let’s look at the definition of a startup:

A startup is a human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty

Just replace ‘startup’ with ‘scientist’ and ‘products and services’ with ‘scientific outcomes’ and you have a definition of a scientist. Like startups, we’re also trying to raise capital (grants) while also attracting people (other scientists) to consume our products (papers).

Startups don’t just operate out of garages or living rooms. There are many cases of startups operating within larger established organisations, which adopt the same framework.

Startups don’t have to look like this (source: Silicon Valley, HBO)

On the one hand, it can appear odd for scientists to borrow tools from startups. However, but this is nowhere near the leap between the startup and car manufacturing industries, which was where startups borrowed their methodologies from in the first place.


Over the past few years, I’ve been observing how startups work and borrowed many of these ideas for my own research career. And you know what? I think it’s been working fairly well for me.

I’ve had a lot of fun starting the Everything Hertz podcast with James Heathers so rather than starting a new blog to share these ideas why not start another podcast?

That’s why I’m launching The Startup Scientist Podcast, which will cover navigating and building your scientific career using the startup framework. It will adopt a shorter format with 5 to 10-minute episodes.

When it comes to navigating your research career I’m by no means professing to be an expert — I’m only 31 and still finishing my postdoc.

But that’s not the point.

There are already so many resources and ideas out there regarding startups in the tech industry so the overall purpose of this podcast is to simply repurpose this framework for scientists.

Have a listen to our first episode, I’d love to hear what you think.


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