Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the only woman to win it in two different fields. She coined the term radioactivity, discovered radium (which eventually killed her), and managed to get things done regardless of the fact that the scientific world didn’t always take her seriously. Here’s how she did it.
Marie Curie was born in 1867, and she went on to become both a physicist and a chemist. She led research into radioactivity, and she won Nobel Prizes in 1903 and 1911. Her accomplishments changed how we think about radiation, but she struggled to get the word out because she was a woman. Still, she was a giving person with a moderate lifestyle. She gave most of her financial winnings away, and even offered up her radium-isolation process patent-free so others could continue her research. Basically, she got things done in the face of adversity, and that alone is worth looking at.
Curie was the subject of all kinds of gossip. Partially that has to do with the fact that she was a woman and people were trying to discredit or find a reason to ignore her. When journalists or writers would ask her about gossip or secrets, Curie would respond with something along the lines of “Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas”m or “In science, we must be interested in things, not in persons.”
Her point was pretty simple: if people struggle to separate you from what you do, then your work isn’t speaking for itself. In Curie’s case, this meant people were concentrating too much on the fact she was a woman instead of what she’d accomplished.
There’s no fail-safe way to get out away from gossip or prejudice around the office, but you can do some things to make your work environment better. Learning how to communicate properly certainly helps, as does finding a company where you actually fit in. But it really ends up being about demanding respect, and as Curie points out, best way to do that is to not fall prey the everyone else’s BS.
Keep Detailed Journals
It’s no surprise that Curie would have kept incredibly detailed journals of her research, but she dedicated the same amount of time to organising her personal journals as well. She meticulously journaled everything, and she kept detailed notes about her two children and husband. She documented everything incredibly well and amazingly, most of her notes are still radioactive.
Curie kept a journal of pretty much everything you can imagine. She kept a mourning journal after the death of her husband, she tracked her own issues in a personal journal, and as shown in Barbara Goldsmith’s Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie, Curie also tracked her children’s health and education:
In Marie’s journal the observations about her daughters proliferate: skinned knees, scarlet fever, whooping cough, Irene’s jealousy of Eve…
Curie’s daughter Eve also made note of her mother’s journal in her biography:
In a grey notebook she listed, as she had done for Irene, the story of Eve’s first movements and her first teeth; and as the child developed the nervous condition of the mother few better.
In a small way, Curie was tracking everything she could about her own health, her husband’s, and her children as a means to analyse herself. We’ve talked before about the mental, creative, and emotional benefits of writing before, and you can keep a journal pretty easily these days. If that’s too much work for you, tracking all those things is pretty easy with this form.
Forget Your Accomplishments
Most of us like to keep track of our accomplishments. This might be in the form of a work diary, to-do lists or whatever else. But writing to her brother in 1894, Marie Curie made a statement on the importance of always looking forward instead of back. She said:
One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.
Of course, we can’t completely ignore everything we’ve done because that’s not healthy either, but Curie’s point is that people really don’t care that much about what you’ve done. They want to know what you’re doing, what you’re working on, or what you plan to do.
This is actually a solid tip for small talk too. We know that nobody really wants to answer the question “What do you do?“, but you can also ask “What are you working on?” or something similar to get a much better response.