You have probably seen the artful drawings of neurons done a century ago by Ramon y Cajal. I saw the originals exhibited at the University of California-Berkeley, and I learned that the sketches were done for research rather than “art.” More important, they were done by the man who discovered the synapse. When I heard that Ramon y Cajal also wrote a book of career advice, I was eager to read it!
Advice for a Young Investigator gives us a glimpse into the culture of academic research a century ago. It’s interesting because the author made such huge contributions to our knowledge of the brain. He discovered that neurons transmit electricity in only one direction. He wrote a textbook on the nervous system, based on his own extensive lab work and sketches, that was used to train doctors for generations. I wanted career advice from this person.
Anything written a century ago is of course rooted in old values and beliefs.
If you look for political incorrectness, you will find it (for example, his advice on finding a wife who supports your research). But most of his advice is curiously similar to what you would hear today: work hard, persist through failure, and trust your own judgment.