Scientists are mostly a humble bunch, as they spend a big part of their lives in search of knowledge or teaching it to others without much hoopla. And while incompetent people often don't know they are incompetent, professional scientists are often smart enough to think they don't quite measure up. And while winning a Nobel Prize is exciting and comes with perks such as cash and recognition for your subject, it can also lead to feelings of inadequacy.
Some prize winners may let the award go to their heads, but others are almost paralysed by insecurity after being singled out for doing no more than their day job. In 2001, Tim Hunt at Cancer Research UK shared the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine with Paul Nurse and Leland Hartwell, for discovering proteins that control cell division. "I found it pretty hard to bear at first, and was extremely nervous that the Swedes would realise their mistake and rescind the prize at the last minute," Hunt says.
Weeks after the 2001 announcement, Hunt ran into Paul Nurse, now President of the Royal Society. The encounter went something like this: "Oh Tim," Nurse said. "I've just had the most ghastly weekend – I felt so inadequate." Take a long look at those who have received the honour and no other response makes as much sense.