How Famous Researchers Work: Stephen Hawking

If you didn’t know him, you wouldn’t assume that this man in the electric wheelchair is one of the most accomplished scientists.

Stephen Hawking (born 1942) suffers from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a disease that has worsened since his diagnosis at age 21. Despite the fact that he can no longer move and relies entirely on other people, he is still able to think through complicated math and physics. He wrote and co-wrote several books, one of them a bestseller.

Despite being talented, he was lazy during his studies in Oxford. Only later, during his PhD, with the spark of inspiration, did he began to work harder, even though his disease had already started to worsen. Soon after, however, he was no longer able to write. He relied on other people to get his writing done. The math he still did in his head, while talking with colleagues helped him to clarify his ideas.

Due to his dependence on other people, he developed daily routines. As a professor, his daily routine included preparation at home, getting to the office, going through the mail with his secretary, working at his computer or reading, having coffee with his colleagues, dealing with correspondence, eating lunch, working again until tea-time, counseling students with the help of assistants, and working some more before going home in the evening.

Working on a book with a co-author, Hawking had to dictate the text. In one case, it took them six years to complete the book. In the case of his book A Brief History of Time (1988), Hawking closely worked with the editor. In the beginning, the manuscript was too complicated and technical for a broader audience. Hawking wanted to publish the book with a publisher, who also would sell the book at airports, so he needed to rewrite the book. Other people assisted him during the revision process. Due to a treatment for pneumonia in the mid-1980s, Hawking lost his voice. Only when he received a computer to aid in writing and talking, he could resume the work on the book.

What Stephen Hawking accomplished is astonishing, despite his disease and the limitations connected with it. In other words: There are no excuses anyone could use for not writing. If Stephen Hawking can do it, everybody else can do it too.

White, Michael/Gribbin, John (1992): Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science. Viking.

Hawking, Stephen (1993): Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays. Bantam.


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