Thought of the day

October 21, 2013

For academics:

The greatest realization you can make is that success, no matter how modest, changes power dynamics. One of the reasons that people in academics get into trouble is that many never escape the mindset of graduate student trying to defend, postdoc trying to get a job and/or assistant professor trying to make tenure.

No matter how successful they become, many still see themselves as the powerless peon, just like anyone else.

They never notice that the other voices have stopped speaking.

h/t: scicurious

16 Responses to “Thought of the day”

  1. bam294 Says:

    Sadly, not all the voices stop speaking when you are a chick IME. You actually have to go the the people and tell them to STFU. Maybe it’s different for others.


  2. DrugMonkey Says:

    Well sure. Modest changes in the power balance do not magically upend the power iAppleCart. But you are underlining my point. It is even *harder* for those on the traditionally-underpowered lists to recognize their own advantages as they accrue with success.


  3. miko Says:

    Yep, always natural to look ahead at the next hurdle and forget about the ones we’re helping to put in place behind us.


  4. MineralPhys Says:

    Thanks for this–definitely gave me something to think about. Not sure what you mean by “other voices” that have stopped speaking. Are these internal voices? external voices? postive? negative? From peers? those w/ more power? those with less?


  5. Jim Austin Says:

    Important to note, however, that some want to keep you under their thumb and will be intimidated by your newfound, unqualified composure. Not suggesting that this should change behavior; just be prepared for it.


  6. FreshTT Says:

    Like MineralPhys, seeking clarification. I can imagine all sorts of interpretations.


  7. Susan Says:

    I’ll guess: the other voices that didn’t make the same cut, who wandered off, and perhaps out of science altogether. Once you’re TT, you’re no longer a bit part in the chorus of perennial postdocs, and you need to stop thinking like one.


  8. Chris Says:

    I interpreted the “other voices” as the people telling you what to do. As a newly tenured faculty member, I can relate. Just as DM says, we spend so much of our training periods trying to prove ourselves, do what everyone else wants us to, silence those voices that tell us we’re not good enough or we need another fellowship or a publication in a higher impact journal, etc. Pre-tenure, although we ostensibly have more autonomy, we are still answering to a higher up, doing what we are “supposed to do” to get tenure.

    At some point, we have to realize that the outside voices don’t matter anymore (whether they are actually silent or not). Our internal voice has to shift from telling us we’re not good enough, need another grant, need glamor mag publications to helping us meet more important goals. Those bigger goals will be different for everyone – for some it will be getting into the national academy, funding large labs both in the US and Asia, whatever. Others might shift their focus toward helping trainees succeed or moving up the ranks in administration to have a larger impact on their organization.

    If you never shift from the “proving yourself” mentality, you’re not likely to make these larger contributions. And if you never realize that you do have some power and influence, you will not be able to help those below you on the ladder.


  9. FreshTT Says:

    Chris, that’s great. This topic has been on my mind recently. The higher-ups just gave us newbies to the TT a thorough lecture on study skills and self-discipline and commitment and 110% on Sunday mornings. I was having flashbacks to middle school, which was the last time I had received so much finger-wagging about what “good [scholars]” do. The constant monitoring of how my career appears to others is truly costly to the science itself, perhaps because I’ve been so socialized to care about what others think anyway. It’s a miserable, neurotic way to live. I remember as a postdoc deciding to speak out at a big meeting about data that were ostensibly being shared but weren’t really as available as they should be, and I thought most of the bigwigs needed to know this and the hoarders called out on it. I realized speaking out might win me some enemies, but god, it felt good to recognize I was working toward goals far bigger than my career.


  10. Rico Says:

    In my view, you have to realize that no matter where you are in your life, there will always be “other voices” telling you that you need X to achieve/do/ Y.

    It’s all noise. So I filter it. I set my goals to be parallel to what others have suggested (but really, the others are those whose opinion/view you value), and I do my best to hit those goals.

    If I look back, objectively, and I can say that I did my best, I’m ok with that.

    Also, give yourself a cookie for accomplishments (successes), no matter how small they seem to be.


  11. FreshTT Says:

    And on nth thought: DM’s h/t really clarifies everything.


  12. drugmonkey Says:

    Not sure what you mean by “other voices” that have stopped speaking.

    I mean that people who are used to fighting to be heard, acting like just-folks sometimes don’t see that everyone else is stepping back, letting them talk first, looking to them, and failing to call them on their bullshit anymore. It’s called “position of power”.

    If you never shift from the “proving yourself” mentality, you’re not likely to make these larger contributions. And if you never realize that you do have some power and influence, you will not be able to help those below you on the ladder.

    I was thinking a bit more negatively but yes, indeed. This is an excellent point that also relates to recognizing our own relative power….use it for good.


  13. drugmonkey Says:

    An example. Those that follow me on Twitter know that I’ve abandoned all pretense to keeping my politics in my pants online. When I’m sitting around BSing with professional peers* having a drink at meetings or whatever, I probably do exactly the same, should politics come up. I had no problem similarly shooting off my mouth as a graduate student, even when taking a class from the token right-winger in the department.

    I try very hard never, ever to address politics of the Dems/Repubs, Left/Right variety with my laboratory. I know of more than one professor who is unable to stop him or herself from issuing the odd snide political crack with the underlings present. When you have hire/fire and future-recommendations power over people, it is in my view terribly inappropriate to be constantly on about your political preferences.

    *there is this one token right wing ~lateral-peer that I can think of but I *think* we all have a fairly understanding, collegial agree to disagree about it.


  14. Cranky Scientist Says:

    I’m male. My female postdoc advisor was huggy, touchy, brought uncomfortable personal matters up on a daily basis, and generally had a pattern of bad behavior. If genders were reversed I might have gone to the university ombudsperson at a bare minimum, but given the situation at the time I did not.

    I share this to point out that (1) this can and does happen in either gender direction and (2) she saw herself as part of the oppressed minority (which, in science, she is.) Therefore, it’s unlikely it will ever ever enter her mind that as a successful, powerful, well-funded, tenured PI, her relationship to her underlings is not one where she’s a poor weak minority, regardless of her place in the larger science world.


  15. branvanchemist Says:

    House of Cards tend to fall pretty quick when you don’t keep the wind to your back. What SUCKS is I can say almost every big shot mentor I had was, at one point, my idol that ushered that walt disney happiness that can only be sewn into your mental success patchwork quilt and their behavior really tore apart this ideology our paths are based on. I am glad I did business before science, because best believe I kept tabs. And in my book, if you violate every decent human concept upheld by law, you deserve the shit-storm that navigates towards your life.
    What sucks? I get to tank another career to take one for the “team” and single-handedly dismantle a toxic culture that threatens science research and the integrity of it. Irony. You’ll secretly always be labeled a problem child for speaking up. Real talk.


  16. […] difficult to maintain the presence of mind to recognize the power of one’s own […]


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