The Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper excelled at many things, and one of those was his job as a theoretical physicist. He prided himself on his intelligence, to the point of being condescending, as he believed himself to be smarter than everyone else. While that was mostly true, there were times when the brilliant Dr. Cooper got things wrong too.
However, his academic smarts didn’t always lead him down the right path when it came to decisions about his career. There were times when he chose to collaborate with his friends, which often led to great career achievements and accolades. But other times, his condescending nature and trouble understanding social cues resulted in some poor decisions that put his career on the line.
Best: Giving His Paper To Hawking
When Stephen Hawking first appeared on the show in “The Hawking Excitation,” Howard helped maintain the equipment on his wheelchair. Sheldon pleaded with him to give Hawking a paper he’d written on the Higgs boson and after torturing him a bit, he did. Hawking told Sheldon his thesis was fascinating and also pointed out a mathematical error he made.
Although he was embarrassed by the error and fainted from shame, it was a good move to have Hawking read his paper. It didn’t lead to much but getting praise from Hawking meant a lot for Sheldon as he worshipped him, plus an endorsement from the famous theoretical physicist carried a lot of weight in the science community.
Worst: Gloating About His Results
After an expedition to the North Pole to find evidence of slow-moving monopoles that seemed successful, Sheldon sent emails to everyone at the university informing them that he had confirmed string theory and would win a Nobel Prize. His friends confessed to forging the results–one of many lies they told Sheldon on TBBT. He had to issue a retraction, which damaged his reputation and credibility as a scientist.
It was understandable that Sheldon was excited for what he thought was one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs, but his decision to gloat about it before he’d even gone to the university and at least reconfirmed his results was ill-advised. Luckily, he later lived this embarrassment down in season 12 when he and Amy actually won the Nobel Prize.
Best: Working With Kripke On A Proposal For A Fusion Reactor
In the episode “The Cooper/Kripke Inversion,” Kripke told Sheldon that the university wanted them to work together on their grant proposals for a new fusion reactor rather than individually as they could only submit one. Sheldon was reluctant, of course, but eventually, they worked together.
Although Sheldon was difficult about it, especially after he found out Kripke’s work was way ahead of his, they worked fairly well together. Their collaboration was one of the few times Sheldon acted in the interest of science rather than focusing on sulking over being forced to work with Kripke. It also ensured they had a good proposal for the fusion reactor that would enable them to do more essential work in Physics.
Worst: Pranking Kripke
While Sheldon was on an interview on NPR via the phone in his office, Kripke fed some helium into the room, making his voice steadily climb higher until it was cartoonish. In retaliation, Sheldon put a mixture of chemicals in the ceiling above Kripke’s lab, which turned into foam and dropped on him when he walked in with the university’s president and board of directors.
Sheldon had no way of knowing the university officials would get caught in the crossfire of his prank but that was not the only issue. The foamy substance covered the entire lab and its contents, which meant an intense cleaning job and replacement of anything that might have been damaged, which would cost the university a lot of money.
Best: Running Away When He Didn’t Get His Way
After hitting a wall with his string theory research, Sheldon decided to move on and try something different. It took a while for him to figure out what he wanted to do but he finally settled on one. When he approached President Siebert, his request to switch fields was denied. Overwhelmed by that and other things, he took a train trip to get away from everything.
It was a childish move, which was common for TBBT’s Sheldon and could have got him fired, but it was effective in the end. When he returned, they allowed him to switch fields on the condition that he lectured a class. It gave him the opportunity to work on something he wanted to do and move on from dead-end research that wasn’t doing anything for his career.
Worst: Deliberately Being A Bad Professor
As part of the deal to switch to blackhole theories, Sheldon had to teach a class a graduate-level physics class. No one signed up for it on account of his reputation as a condescending, difficult person. Seeing how dejected he was, Howard volunteered to take the class. Instead of being grateful, Sheldon picked on Howard like he always did, asking difficult questions and setting impossible tasks.
Since lecturing the class was part of the agreement for him to study what he wanted, it wasn’t wise of Sheldon to self-sabotage by being a horrid lecturer. Even though his low opinion of Howard’s engineering degree superseded all else, he should have thought of his career and what it meant for him if he was reported for not holding up his end of the bargain.
Best: Going Back To String Theory
After his diversion to dark matter research, Sheldon fell back in love with string theory while explaining it to Penny. The conversation led him to a breakthrough that finally allowed him to explore new angles and opened up exciting possibilities for his career and the future of physics.
Despite the detour, Sheldon had always been passionate about string theory. It was the first thing he’d become interested in when he became a theoretical physicist and he’d put in a lot of work towards it. Abandoning it meant letting all those years of his career go to waste, but going back to it remedied that.
Worst: Drinking Before His Speech
Nervous about giving a speech before receiving the chancellor’s award in season 3’s “The Pants Alternative,” Sheldon drank two glasses of alcohol. Due to his low tolerance of it, he got drunk immediately and caused a scene, taking off his pants and underwear.
It’s understandable that Sheldon was nervous about speaking in front of a crowd, but at that point, he and the others knew the effect it had on him. He took it anyway and behaved inappropriately in front of his co-workers and seniors.
Best: Working On Super-Asymmetry
Just before their wedding, Sheldon and Amy came up with the theory of super-asymmetry. Over the twelfth season, they worked on it and the payoff was a Nobel Prize they received in the series finale.
It was great to see Sheldon finally get an achievement he’d dreamed of for so long with his partner. Especially since he’d been struggling with choosing a field of study when he gave up string theory. Super-asymmetry was new, unchartered territory, but their risk and work paid off, giving them one of the biggest achievements on TBBT.
Worst: Using Anxiety To Increase Efficiency
Having struggled for months with his new dark matter research, Sheldon tried to optimize his workspace to increase efficiency. Working off of an experiment that suggested performance could be optimized by creating a state of productive anxiety, he subjected himself to anxiety-inducing conditions. He became obsessed with it, even drinking energy drinks so he could stay up and work.
In the end, his productivity came at a cost of his well-being, which set him back instead. He was also annoying his friends more than usual. When he finally gave up the cap and got some rest, he continued to make progress without using his anxiety to optimize efficiency.