Advice from a Brilliant Young Colleague of Mine

Jan 04 2017 Published by under Uncategorized

This post is my attempt to reduce my grumpiness index. I am *so* damn tired of both self-improvement and how to be a better mentor advice. So, look on the bright side, me and Monty Python. I value my colleagues. Young and old. For what I can learn. I may be beyond self-improvement, but not learning.

One untenured colleague, someone who I mentor professionally, came back from a meeting. She was joyful and charged up and filled with both science and professionalism.

She had had some time talking with a slightly older friend who gave her three good bits of advice. While this advice was intended for a someone 2-years pre-tenure, its easy to morph to fit other stages of academic life.

Thus, at a scientific meeting:

1. Are you going up to talk to the people who will likely be writing letters for you? The ones you suggest and ones you know someone else will suggest to the tenure/promotions committee?

This is also true of people on study sections, the people who will be reviewing your paper. In general, it applies to people who will be in a position to render judgment. Yeah, yeah, we are all totally fair and review everything objectively. But unconscious bias also works towards our friends. The people we know. Having a face on a name is generally a good thing.

2. Have you thought about organizing a symposium for this meeting?

I particularly recommend this for mid-career folks. One of the things that promotion to Full Prof  usually entails is demonstration of "national or international reputation" or "national leadership". Organizing a symposium at a national meeting is one way to do this. Furthermore, you get to invite some folks who might, in the future, write letters for you. Let alone there are scientific benefits from talking with people you think are really good and really smart. Who knows where your science will go.

3. Have you talked to your (other junior faculty) friends about getting invited out to give a talk?

This is also good along the lines of putting a face to your name. Other benefits? Meeting big dogs. If there is someone in the department you're going to that you would like to meet, email them in advance and say "hey, I'm coming to town, and I'd really like to meet you". I often don't feel like I have time to talk to speakers, but if someone takes the trouble to email me, of course, I am going to meet with them. Also, these talks, in judicious numbers (not too many) are good at tenure or promotion time.

One response so far

  • EPJ says:

    Thank you for the description of the system and your good advice.

    Yeah, the issue of letters of reference is always played, and when you think about it, it is one way to get a better perspective of the scientist, or worker, from diverse colleagues. But the problem would be when that is all that counts, be it by politics or because the work is irrelevant or even perturbing to who knows what interests. And the outcome of that would certainly be that it actually deteriorates what science is for. No?

    I think meeting 'big dogs' is actually a good thing, because it gives the more junior scientist or any other person that meets them a good perspective of these personalities, particularly when more than one type are met.

    The capacity to organize symposiums should also matter, because it is like an update of the fields of interest and the current leadership there. But it also would reflect the organizer's interest if no other conditions have to be met, like funding, outside interests, etc.

    The paper reviewing process may have the problem of competition, by science criteria and by publication spots, and the fact that is like scientific currency for promotions or just holding on to a position, and because of that you I think you actually find true derailing of important facts than then later on have detrimental effects. It may even reflect international fighting or priorities.

    Invitations to talks and other science activities curiously can be blocked, and that it is hard to even believe. So that there are ample loopholes to complicate what the science umbrella field is rather than a single stick to press.

    I hope you tell us more about the subconscious bias, is it developmentally set?

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