NTPs and Science Careers: What It’s Like to be an NTP in a sea of NTJs

Almost every personality typing website out there likes to list science-related careers as a good fit for ENTPs and INTPs. We are said to have an inherent aptitude for and interest in scientific fields. The INTP type has been nicknamed the “Scientist,” “Engineer” or “Architect”, while ENTPs have been dubbed the “Inventor,” “Visionary” or the “Mad Scientist”. Our combination of extraverted intuition, Ne (making new connections among seemingly unrelated things) and introverted thinking, Ti (ability to analyze, systemize and build logical networks) does indeed sound like an ideal combination for scientific pursuits and careers.

But what is the reality? How do the Ne and Ti play out in modern scientific research careers? And are such careers fulfilling to NTPs?

Are NTPs common among science professors?

I am a female ENTP who has worked in academic biomedical science for 20 years. For the same 20 years, I have also been immensely interested in personality typing, especially type according to Myers and Briggs, and how these types operate in scientific fields. In graduate school, while earning my PhD, I convinced all of my classmates and labmates to take the personality test, and used to joke that this is “my other thesis project” (to which some of my mentors, clearly not NTPs, would caution to “make sure it does not end up being my only one”).

As my career progressed through the academic ranks, I have compiled a long excel spreadsheet of personality types in science, at various stages of training, and subsequently, in various types of scientific careers. Although long, my dataset is unlikely to have true statistical power. But in typical ENTP fashion, that’s not going to stop me - I am going to make sweeping generalizations anyway. Just think of the observations and advice that follow as extended anecdotal evidence, organized by my Ne and Ti. Furthermore, my experience and advice apply primarily to biological and biomedical sciences, but I believe can be extrapolated to any basic science research field – meaning fields that try to explain how nature works and use that knowledge for society’s benefit.

To start with, are NTPs indeed prevalent in science? For academic biomedical science, one striking trend I found in my analysis is the progressive narrowing of the variety of personality types from training (undergraduate and PhD students) to advanced training (postdoctoral fellows) to permanent positions (professors and group leaders). While my graduate classmates exhibited a healthy variety of personality types (though enriched for TPs and TJs), almost every single professor/group leader I know and have tested is (ready for it?) an INTJ. There are also a few ENTJs among them, and they (not surprisingly) tend to gravitate to top administrative positions. ENTPs, on the other hand seem to be very rare among biomedical professors. INTPs are more common but still very much a minority relative to the overwhelming predominance of INTJs.

Why so few NTPs in modern science?

So how is this possible? For all of our aptitude for science, why are not more of us NTPs pursuing careers on the typical science research path?

From my observations, the first and foremost reason is the predominant Te mode of operation of the modern science research enterprise. Te stands for extraverted Thinking, and it is all about structure, efficiency, and policy. It loves dogma and reductionist reasoning. It does not love open-ended quests, curiosity-driven pondering or dilly-dallying of any kind, because it wants to GET THINGS DONE. It is the preferred operating mode of TJs types, and is no doubt a highly productive way to run businesses and institutions. The major problem for NTPs is that it is not our mode of operation. Heavily Te-driven environments tend to send us running away screaming.

Essentially, for a long-term career in basic science research today, you are expected to have Te level of organization to hit every logistical, procedural, mentoring, and regulatory mark. This can be extremely draining and overwhelming to NTPs, who sometimes have a hard enough time attending to basic self-care needs. Because Te is all about reductionist thinking, you are often forced to commit to one major hypothesis/explanation before you are ready, which to an NTP can feel like sacrilege.

Out society likes to think of scientists as Albert Einstein (who may have been an INTP), pondering the mysteries of the universe in his office, or Charles Darwin (who may have been an ENTP), sailing around the world to explore the workings of evolution, but the modern reality of research science favors a highly organized “type-A” executive. In other words, an NTJ.

A secondary and related reason is the NTP penchant for Ne – what we project onto others is our latest theories and explanations, build from our highly developed intuition and internal Ti processing. The response to our Ne from fellow NTJs typically ranges from skepticism-laced admiration to full-blown rejection (as in “this sounds like a bunch of crazy bs”). Ni, the preferred mode of NTJs, can jive well with Ne, and in some ways, loves listening to Ne, since it’s almost like their subconscious decided to speak in well-formed sentences. But without clear verbalization of our underlying Ti reasoning, our ideas can come off as zany and random ramblings, especially to Te users.

Advice for NTPs contemplating careers in basic science

In summary, modern scientific domains are dominated by I/ENTJs, and expectedly operate in their preferred functional modes. Short of giving up on scientific careers altogether, how do we NTPs adapt? As an ENTP who has survived the grinding Te wheel, here is my advice on both how to carve out a fulfilling or at least sustainable career path in science research and what areas to focus on to operate more authentically as an NTP:

1) Go for a theory basis – whatever you do, try to pick an area or field of science that has a sizeable theoretical or computational component, in lieu of manual experimental work. This will generally reduce the level of procedure, detail, or regulatory compliance that you have to pay attention to. In my observations, applied math, data analytics and computer science tend to be more populated by NTPs, at least partly because those fields are not dependent on detailed manual labor and highly structured nature of experimental bench work.

2) Make an effort in explaining your reasoning in a step-by-step manner – this likely applies to many careers for NTPs, for both verbal and written communication. So all those TJ types can finally understand you.

3) Alternatively, choose a scientific question where the solution matters far more than your explanation for it. That way you can avoid the trap of spinning your Ne wheels to a crowd of skeptical TJs, who decide your scientific fate. Engineering and computer science would thus again be potentially more fitting for NTPs. But if basic science research is your thing, work on solutions that will be objectively useful, regardless of how you arrived at them.

4) Spend more time on the positives – or in other words, find ways to reduce the burden of Te-imposed structure and bureaucracy. Ask for administrative support or invest in someone who will help you, look for an institution that is less Te-driven or a position that comes with less of that type of drain. Anything so you can spend more time on indulging your Ne/Ti in a productive way. Biological science, for example, is in many ways highly suited to NTP interests, because without a developed theoretical framework, it presents an endless mental playground for understanding, synthesizing and developing said framework. In other words, there is seemingly infinite material to work with for our Ne and Ti. If you can find ways or environments to escape the Te prison, you can be on a thrilling discovery ride every day. I am honestly not exaggerating – endless problems to solve, endless connections to make, endless information to learn.

5) Believe in your strengths – the Ne/Ti of NTPs is a powerful force for making discoveries and finding new explanations. We can never beat NTJs at their own game, but we can bring something else to the table. We tend to see the Te world as lacking in imagination, and from my experience, it is. So don’t let it stifle the unique strengths of an NTP. If a given scientific environment does not appreciate you, find another one. I know it’s easier said than done, but the alternative is not operating authentically, which for NTPs (much like for NFPs) tends to be particularly painful and soul-crushing. Just remember that your strengths have a valuable contribution, and find/create an environment where you can apply them more freely.

6) But accept your shortcomings – or embrace and utilize your NTJ colleagues. For all my criticism of the Te world, part of me loves working with NTJs, particularly INTJs. They seem to have precisely what I lack, and our approaches are very different but highly complementary. Collaborating with INTJs is productive, as they always give substance and grounding to my sometimes nebulous ideas. Sure, it is often done in their overbearing “I know better” style, but I learned not to take it personally. Once you understand their personality type, you can work with their strengths towards a common goal, which let’s be honest, will probably be reached faster with an INTJ involved. So engage in collaborative projects, and in science, odds are your collaborator will be an INTJ. Who in turn will be secretly impressed by your mental flexibility and synthesizing powers.

Maya Capelson

Maya Capelson spends her days working as a biological scientist, and her nights pondering other related and unrelated topics, such as science communication, personality typology, motherhood in the workplace, and data science. She tries to balance being an ENTP and a working mom all of the time, with varying success.

Comments

This account is (not verified) says...

I am a biology student and I love how biology is multi-disciplinary (after years and years of looking for something that would interest me enough to maintain my interest levels above critical point and that I feel I can tap into my ability to link different things together). :) I sore in that field and my teachers are always really impressed with my presentations. 

Maya Capelson says...

Exactly! Biology is all about linking different ideas and pieces of knowledge together, to explain natural phenomena. Understanding how living things work is just endlessly fun. Long-term careers in biological science or any research science can be tricky to sustain and navigate, but the fun truly never ceases. 

Elmo Tanembaum (not verified) says...

Thank you for your insights! Really helpful!

Maya Capelson says...

Happy to hear you found it useful!

cyanidio (not verified) says...

This is fantastic. I wish I had this article as a graduate student many years ago to understand why I didn't fit with many of my colleagues. I'm now a tenured chemistry professor at a PUI. Undergraduate institutions are a good fit for ENTPs. There isn't the running a research empire aspect of a R1 and instead, the opportunity to just play in the lab with the research students. If something is publishable, great.

Maya Capelson says...

Thank you, and your job sounds great for an ENTP! I always wondered whether PUI positions are a better fit for ENTPs, happy to hear that it does indeed seem to be the case. I like to daydream about doing exactly this - playing in the lab on all my favorite ideas, without worrying about justifying it to reviewers, funding agencies, institutional administration. Perhaps one day :)

ENTP Social Scientist (not verified) says...

I'm so glad to stumble across an article about my personality type that is so relevant to my circumstances! I'm an ENTP Ph.D student in the social sciences who is in a relationship with an INTJ Ph.D student (in a different social science field). I often find myself thinking that while some aspects of academia are well-suited to me (autonomy over schedule and projects), other aspects of the job do not come naturally at all (painstaking attention to detail). While we are both self-disciplined people, I think my INTJ partner is a lot better at systematically breaking down projects into tangible steps. Still struggling with this right now, because in research as in business—ideas are cheap, execution is what matters.

Maya Capelson says...

You are so right on with the "ideas are cheap, execution is what matters", I often say this exact thing to myself. Mostly to remind my own ENTP self to focus on the exisiting projects and stop coming up with 10 more intangible ideas, fun as that may be. I think this is the struggle for ENTPs in many careers. On the bright side, once you reach a certain level of seniority in research, you do focus more on generating ideas and leave many of the details to others. So there is hope :) Good luck!

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