Stop taking advice only from senior people

May 16 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

We all have mentors, many of which are incredibly valuable to us. Their advice can be critical in navigating this job and its vagaries. There's a hell of a lot one can learn from those that have been successful as academic researchers.


One has to be aware that things change and perspectives change. What worked 10, 20, 30 years ago might not be a good fit for the current climate. That struck me as I read the following:

This type of advice is familiar to me. I've gotten all sorts of anecdata-based strange advice like this from senior colleagues who haven't walked in junior faculty shoes in decades. It is entirely possible that NSF used to be more "relationship-based" or that there are big names out there who's conversation with their POs is something like this:

But for the other 99% in our current funding climate, I don't see how your relationship with the PO handling your proposals has a lot to do with getting funded. At this point you have to run a two panel gauntlet and come out relatively unscathed just to be considered. Yes, the POs have a bit of wiggle room at that point, but I would bet that the vast majority of funded PIs have little to no relationship with their POs prior to being funded. Whereas I think it is a good idea to meet with or talk to your PO, I highly doubt it's a make or break move.

One of the most valuable things I've done over the last few years is to use this blog and twitter to gather advice from a much wider audience than I can do through IRL conversations and try to see patterns. What works for lots of people? What are the successful people at my career stage doing that is working for them? Everyday there are conversations on these topics happening. If you listen it's clear no one has a magic bullet. But separating out the odd-ball PI-specific advice from the general helps keep you on track.

gifs from here

3 responses so far

  • Claus Wilke says:

    The thing is that program officers have a huge influence over how a proposal will fare simply by who they assign as reviewers. All you need to do to kill a proposal is assign one or two reviewers who you know are critical of the general approach or techniques used in the proposal. Actually, it's probably sufficient to just assign a few off-topic reviewers to kill a proposal. I don't believe for a minute that program officers don't influence review outcome (possibly subconsciously) through biased reviewer selection.

  • Busy says:

    Hear, hear!

    I had two Senior mentors suggest at different times I do not include certain accomplishments in my CV. Too minor they said. The first time I listened, only to be told later by someone in the selection committee that said "minor" accomplishment would have been at the top of the scale among the pool of junior applicants I was in.

    The next time around I just ignored the mentor and included some newer items. The grant was accepted and the reviewers explicitly and positively commented on said "minor" items.

  • It depends on what advice you are getting from senior people. If you are going to ask them minor stuff they will be off since they haven't been in your place for a long time.

    However, in my experience, the senior people are very helpful if you are trying to get help in figuring out a grandiose big picture of your research career or your place in the research world 😀

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