"Taking ownership" of research

2017/02/10

One of the most important differences between a mature scientist and a junior scientist is “ownership”. This is the metaphorical ownership, when we say that someone should “take ownership” of something, usually a project.

I know that taking ownership is important, and I want to be able to communicate that to people I work with, but I realized that I didn’t actually know what constitutes “taking ownership”. What does it mean? It’s not very helpful to tell someone to do something when I can’t tell them what it concretely means to do that thing.

I can think of things that look like ownership (or a lack of ownership). The obvious symptoms of non-ownership are things like:

If these are symptoms of the disease, what defines the state of health? A conversation on StackExchange included ideas (mostly in the context of business) like:

A Harvard Business Review article has a more succinct answer: ownership is when “we internalize the idea of taking responsibility” by realizing that “no one is coming”. This means looking forward toward solutions, not backwards toward blame.

In discussions about research, my advisor and I identified some “symptoms” of good ownership health:

We also discussed some ways to become capable of ownership:

I’m not sure any of these answer exactly the question of what ownership is, but I hope it can help folks get closer.