On navigation and trust on the TT

Jul 07 2014 Published by under [Education&Careers]

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 cackleofradness@gmail.com

4 responses so far

  • AcademicLurker says:

    The criterion for tenure and promotion documents tend to be vague. One thing I appreciated when I started is that the department chair took me aside and explained what the real criteria were, e.g. "I know it says any reasonable funding is fine, what that actually means is 'get an independent RO1'", "Collaborations are fine but you'd better have a string of independent papers by the time you go up", & etc.

    It never even occurred to me to think that was anything special until I later heard horror stories about people at other schools who had be grossly mislead about what counted and what didn't. Given how much is invested in each new hire, I'm surprised to hear of places setting people up to fail like that.

    I wouldn't be surprised if there was a gender disparity between which new hires get the "here's the real deal" talk and which don't.

  • Tim says:

    I'm not particularly sure that re-negotiating every relationships twice a year is a good advice. The "strenght of weak ties" is a well described effect, in short, you tend to get most (unexpected) benefits from weak interactions, because they connect you to people from different backgrounds (as you already have strong ties with people close to you). So relationships with ~0 cost and ~0 benefits may be worth preserving, as you never know when they might prove useful.

  • Pascale says:

    The P&T criteria is usually vague because it must fit an entire college within a university. Each department and faculty track can then have their own definition of what is the real deal. The key is identifying the people within your own department that will give you those specific numbers. It probably will not be the chair.

  • CoR says:

    @Tim, I'm not advocating ridding yourself of weak contacts, just those that exceed your bar for unacceptable bullshittery -- whatever one decides that may be.

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