Today we're running a guest post from former blogger, Cackle of Rad, as part of the pre-tenure survival carnival. Enjoy!
Gifts from people often come by surprise and in strange packages. These gifts may be as simple as a kind word or as complex as the knowledge that someone is not to be trusted. If you are on the tenure track and lucky, gifts may come from your Dean in the form of unexpected funding--an extra semester for a student, a post-doc, possibly even funding for a conference or meeting that could expand your scientific range and pool of contacts. They may be more insidious--the moment you realize a contact is fishing for information about your lab’s progress on something rather than simple interest in your science. Pay attention to these moments, because they are the sort that help you determine who is on your team versus those that see you as a stumbling block or stepping stone.
There is a lot of noise in the process of sorting out a new lab. Will I be able to attract trainees? Will I develop something novel and interesting? Can I get funded? Why is no one listening to a damn thing I say? How do I fire someone--do I fire people or put up with crappy performance? When do I celebrate the good things?
These questions are all important, but they are the easy ones because they are somewhat straightforward and in general such questions apply to all of us. The more difficult aspect of navigation is sorting the seed from the chaff--those that want to see your research program succeed versus those that don’t care very much versus those that see you as direct competition. Let’s not forget those whose work you influence. This is a murky category--potential collaborator, someone on your heels, someone in direct competition, or someone that helpfully cites your work and expands it in a direction you would not have.
From personal experience I believe that women have a more difficult path to navigate. I won’t belabor the statistics or personal anecdotes, but find it interesting that I have received far more professional support from other women academics compared to men. I have wondered why, but have decided that noodling on the subject is a waste of time. This is time that could be better spent performing analyses, writing up papers, brainstorming my next grant application. And really? Fuck them for adding to that noise.
My very confident and super-awesome post-doc advisor once told me to re-negotiate every personal relationship at least twice a year. For example, Does my association with this person provide me a benefit or a cost--and, do the benefits outweigh the costs? At the time I thought this mental pruning seemed excessive, but now I realize where he was coming from. To this advice I would add: Be confident in yourself. Listen to the voices that provide clarity on navigating your course, treat your friends well, and be kind to people. But don’t blindly trust--and, importantly, recognize gifts when they are handed to you, whether helpful or insightful.
CoR is on twitter (@CackleofRad) or can be reached via email email@example.com