What you will be working on in five years?

Perhaps one of the most useless of all job interview questions.

I often find myself surprised when I think about my paper topics. My early work was on one topic, but I have worked on problems in many different areas of my field. As I learn new things, I find new stuff to work on. I don’t know if it is overconfidence or not, but I feel that with enough work, I can do things in many areas. And have.

I bring this up, because I have been dealing with (early) PhD students, and I now recognizee that their ability to work on different topics can predict long run success.

Most of the good people in my field write interesting papers in many subfields—evidence that many of the skills that good reseachers have are not topic specific.

Learning new things is fun; and doing so is probably why some people don’t burn out, but keep doing research long after there are many external rewards. I wonder if doing research across multiple areas might not be a good predictor of a long and active research career.

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