28 September 2012

You do not know the end of your story

This post by Naomi at IttyBiz is something that many academics can benefit from, regardless of whether you’re a stressed undergrad, unappreciated grad student, disgruntled post-doc, freaking out tenure-tracker, or grumpy tenured professor.

You do not know the end of your story.

That won’t make sense until you’ve read Naomi’s piece.

In 1897, Churchill watched one of his fellow army dudes get slashed to death by a Sikh bad guy during the Greco-Turkish war.

You think he was like, “It’s cool, ’cause one day I’ll beat the Nazis”?

No, he was not.

A good visual metaphor for how academics view careers is tightly pulled chain: a straight line, with each link leading to the next. If one breaks, the whole thing goes. If you’re ambitious and forward thinking, this means that you are worried about the ramifications about every decision.

“If I don’t get in the top tenth percentile on the GRE, I won’t get into Dr. Fancypants lab, and he can’t set me up for a postdoc in Big State University, so I can’t get the tenure-track position in the Major Research University, and I’ll never get the Nobel prize!”

Academics tend to gloss over career struggles. Let’s face it, nobody likes to boast about how they got Cs on their undergraduate transcript (I did), were wobbly on their comprehensive exams in the Ph.D. (I was), how they struggled to get tenure (I did), or cannot seem to crack the shell on external grants (I am). Jacquelyn Gill has suggested a way to try to make these more visible, by creating a shadow CV.

If we acknowledge problems of successful scientists, they’re usually cast as mere speed bumps that are overcome with genius, courage, and determination (but usually genius).

You do not know when you will have an opportunity to contribute and do something valuable. That you failed does not mean that you are a failure.

Related posts

The genius myth
The downsides of meritocracy
The sports psychology of academia

External links

Is this the end of the story? 

Building a shadow CV

Picture by Max Klingensmith on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

1 comment:

Jeremy Fox said...

My own shadow cv is here:


I certainly faced obstacles on the path to getting a tenure-track job. I was very lucky to overcome them, and indeed almost quit science along the way: