How do you get to Carnegie Hall? 10,000 Hours
Slate.com has had an interesting series of articles (two of them are here and here) about the creativity originating from working in pairs: think Lennon and McCartney, Joel and Ethan Cohen, Richards and Jagger. In the second installment, Joshua Wolf Shenk said about the two Beatles:
The nature of John and Paul’s intimacy evolved over the years. In the early days, the partners were hardly ever apart. In Hamburg, the Beatles famously played for hours at a time (adding up, as Malcolm Gladwell has pointed out, to the famous 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” that Anders Ericsson has determined leads to true mastery.) Paul and John essentially lived together on the road; even on days off, they got together to write.
This got me to thinking how long would it take for an early career scientist to amass 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to reach true mastery of being a scientist? If you think of 20 hours in a week (because not all are devoted to developing true mastery, but we’re just looking at approximate values), then this would amount to 500 weeks, or about 10 years. Given that a typical Ph.D. student may take five years or so to attain the Ph.D., then people should become experts by about five years after graduation.
Interestingly, five years is consistent with what my Ph.D. coadvisor Dan Keyser once told me would be the time when the community would know whether I would be a productive research scientist and member of the scientific community in the future (for me, that was around 2001). It seems that there might just be some external evidence to support Prof. Keyser’s claim.
This evidence also supports my argument in the preface of Eloquent Science that nearly anyone can be taught to be a better writer and scientist. All it takes is a little practice. 10,000 hours to be precise.