Roz Soft Skills
Rosalind Franklin Forum for Female Scientists
Open To All Soft Skills in Sciences
I. Graduate Student
1. GS1 Career Opportunities, similar to Twitter/#PhDLife Example Source
Q: I have the opportunity to study abroad during my Ph.D.
As: Absence may delay your home credits from being awarded, thus slowing program completion and graduation. If these, and/or financial adjustments, are immaterial to you, by all means experience someplace new.
2. GS2 Work-Life Balance, similar to Reddit/Grad School example
Q: I’m burned out and exhausted. Please suggest strategies to get through my dissertation.
As: Some advisors are accessible, sympathetic, and helpful; others will perceive weakness in requests for advice and assistance. Anatomy of a Research Report is a good section-by-section guide to the dissertation. Search for a quiet place to work and relax. Many friends, family, and sports or other groups will gladly provide care in this last push.
3. GS3 Career Pathways, Reddit/Gradschool
Q: Should I complete a Master's degree then go on to a Ph.D. program, or apply to a Ph.D. program directly?
As: As a Ph.D. appears to be your ultimate goal, we advise getting on with it within the strongest program to which you are admitted. Compare program rankings and reputations, professorial standing and supportiveness, and cost if any.
4. GS4 Competing Demands
Q: How should I allocate time spent on teaching versus research?
As: If you seek an academic career in science, your central focus is research. Alongside, it’s beneficial to experience teaching, learn whether you enjoy it, and, later in your career, to cite preparedness and ability to teach. While TA’ing, we suggest a time division something like 30% classroom and 70% lab.
5. GS5 Competing Demands, Reddit/Gradschool
Q: Both my PI & teaching advisor are unhappy with effort I can allocate to each.
As: Which activity dovetails better with your professional goals? Request a brief meeting with both your advisors simultaneously to agree on a sustainable time distribution, including preparation for each activity.
6. GS6 Competing Demands, Source
Q: I can attain a higher GPA by taking one less class, or maintain a full load to get through coursework.
As: Slow down if you feel strongly about learning at your own pace, but understand that your pace and productivity are being compared to your cohort’s. Your advisor may counsel you to complete your coursework at the same rate your classmates do.
7. GS7 Career Pathways, post
Q: Should I continue on in the same department for a Ph.D.?
As: It’s a better idea to acquire breadth of training and a larger collegial network by going elsewhere.
8. GS8 Career Pathways, this
Q: I’ve been accepted at a two--year Master’s program only. Should I attend it, or take one external research year before a guaranteed Ph.D. spot, as recommended by an advisor in that Ph.D. program?
As: One external research year in industry is short, its financial rewards considerable, and the experience valuable. Further, you will be demonstrating attentiveness to the Ph.D. advisor’s advice. Lastly, it’s unlikely all credits from an external Master’s program will transfer to the Ph.D. program.
9. GS9 Competing Demands, Source
Q: Working on two simultaneous lab projects is too much. I prefer to concentrate on one at a time.
As: Carefully catalog each project’s requirements. If these are untenable taken together, go to your advisor. In general, however, single projects don’t exemplify training for a career in research. In your future, at least two investigations will mitigate risks of failure. It’s wise to maintain a backup project or two.
10. GS10 Career Pathways
Q: Should I accompany my advisor, who is moving to a different country?
As: Is the advisor a teacher and mentor worth following? Will s/he still be accessible after the transfer despite additional demands on her/his time? Is the group being allocated equal or better resources? If so, prepare to enjoy and learn from foreign experience. If not, switching your advisor under these circumstances will give rise to fewer questions and repercussions than usual.
11. GS11 Career Pathways, Source
Q: What is an appropriate level of professionalism between a graduate student and advisor?
As: As a graduate student you’re a PI in training, onstage the moment you walk onto campus. Assume your best professional self. Show unfailing courtesy to younger and fellow students, secretaries, lab managers, safety officer, mail handlers, and custodians. In emergencies, help with others’ problems or donate snacks. Consider matching your PI’s hours at work. Your own professionalism and collegiality will benefit the relationship.
12. GS12 Career Pathways, Source
Q: All around me, male graduate students gravitate into gender-exclusive friendships.
As: Always greet these men courteously, and don’t be afraid to show your competence in a dispassionate way. Another route to men’s seeing you as an ally is their respect for sustained physical prowess e.g., sports, grit, long hours, hard work. If you want to meet on their playing field, offer the department a tough lunchtime running or exercise class. Take part in group activities however skilled you are. If you play a sport yourself, invite a male counterpart to scrimmage or to watch a game in a public place. (See too AP1.)
13. GS13 Career Pathways, Source
Q: Is a web presence necessary to researchers?
As: Yes, social media and an up to date website encourage colleagues to stay abreast of your work and events you endorse or in which you participate.
14. GS14 Career Pathways, Source
Q: How do I talk about my former advisor, with whom I have a poor relationship?
As Summary: Don’t, except with your closest trusted colleagues. If asked by others, give an anodyne reply such as “we don’t always see eye to eye.” If bad relations threaten to become obstructive, set the record straight as possible in a conversation with the department chair. We hope you will receive a fair hearing.
15. GS15 Career Opportunities, Source
Q: I’m having trouble asking questions in seminars, conferences, and public talks.
As: Jot down and taxonomize questions that others ask in group meetings and talks. Ask your advisor and university learning center for tips and practice sessions. Consult Anatomy of a Research Report.
16. GS16 Career Opportunities, Source
Q: How do I come up with strong research ideas?
As: Just as musicians often perform songs from the past, a gold mine of scientific inspiration is research literature of 1-2 generations ago, when pioneers in your field identified then-insoluble, now-soluble questions. Today’s open questions are also reviewed in talks and literature; always have a notebook at hand for active listening and reading. Chat with vendors at conferences. Their livelihood depends on knowing the field’s current and future directions, and on building solution technologies.
17. GS17 Competing Demands, Source
Q: I am being excluded from a paper to which I contributed data and text, and am not sure how to proceed.
Q: A collaborator is fabricating data and plagiarizing my text.
As: You have a case if you made a concrete substantive intellectual contribution to the work’s conception, design, implementation, analysis, and/or interpretation. Highlight the article sections where your work appears, key these to your dated lab book reports, and take this material to your advisor. If this step is unsuccessful, consult a university ombudsperson.
18. GS18 Career Pathways, Source
Q: My advisor decides all my projects for me. I want more input and autonomy.
As: Obviously the first step is to discuss this with your PI. Propose, in writing, 2-3 side projects, along with timelines, you’re knowledgeable enough to execute semi-independently. If one or two of these don’t persuade the PI, and autonomy is very important to you, revise the listing according to her/his input and that of a second knowledgeable person, such as a senior technician or the lab manager. Return the revised listing to the PI within a month. If unsuccessful at that point, consult your university ombudsperson.
19. GS19 Career Opportunities, Source
Q: Do advisors help with networking?
As: Some advisors send students to meetings in their stead; compliment and direct questions to students or postdocs during their own talks; alert them to fellowships, jobs, and prizes; and make calls on their behalf in addition to writing strong letters of recommendation. Many other PIs take a “sink or swim on your own” policy. Check with group postdocs to find out where your PI sits on this continuum.
20. GS20 Career Pathways, Source
Q: Is it okay to reach out to external researchers for their expertise?
As: No, you’re likely unaware of pre-existing history and issues among your group and others. Your PI must pre-approve project-related contact, especially information trading.
21. GS21 Career Opportunities, Source
Q: How do I get my name out there?
As: Write, write, write, write, write. Meet with your advisor to plan out possible publications a year in advance. ARR will help you to become speedy and competent in producing research reports.
22. GS22 Career Opportunities, Source
Q: Is it appropriate to walk up to random people at conferences and introduce myself?
As: Yes indeed. Networking is fundamentally what conferences are about. Information transfer is most efficient via print, not in person. In contrast, forming an opinion of, knowledge of, or an acquaintance with colleagues is best achieved directly, face to face.
23. GS23 Career Pathways, Source
Q: How much do my university’s rank/status affect chances later in my career?
As: A great deal. Prestigious universities typically offer successful students more rigorous, comprehensive, topical training than is possible elsewhere. For this reason, positions, grants, and fellowships often go to their graduates, all other things being equal, i.e., all applicants are highly recommended and submit similarly stellar proposals.
24. GS24 Career Pathways, Source
Q: I’ve never failed a test before, let alone as terribly as now on material I thought I knew.
As: Meet with the course TA and instructor to pinpoint where you went wrong. Compare their explanations. Take these explanations to your university’s learning center, whose experts can restore confidence by ensuring you’re preparing properly for exams. Retake the test.
25. GS25 Career Pathways
Q: My PI is an idiot. He knows one phenomenon only, and one way to look at it only.
As: Hey, too strong. He was hired for that expertise, and unfashionable thinkers have, over time, proven themselves visionaries. Make certain you can’t learn further from him. Politely and deferentially, ask him and one or two of his professorial colleagues about the work’s importance and impact. Only then, if not persuaded, vote with your feet.
26. GS26 Career Pathways
Q: On progress reports I receive no comments from which I can learn, only uninformative check marks and nods.
As: Your advisor probably realized long ago that comments are often disregarded or cause for combat. Ask her/him, and a friendly senior postdoc, for more constructive feedback and for recommendations of excellent examples of research reports. Consider rotating into the group of junior faculty, who are often energetic and still filled with zeal for teaching as well as research. Consult Anatomy of a Research Report, and convene or join writing practice sessions.
II. Postdoctoral Fellows
27. PF1 Work-Life Balance
Q: Is my salary negotiable?
As: University salary levels are usually preset, but if the issue is urgent and must be raised there’s no reason not to inquire politely (vs. demanding). Fellowships and prizes can make up a shortfall, but be aware many dictate stringent totals that can complicate salaried compensation.
28. PF2 Career Pathways, slightly adapted
Q: I have two postdoctoral opportunities, one in a star group whose atmosphere is cutthroat competitive; another collegial and well known but in a super-expensive city.
As: It was wise to pay a visit to both labs. Unless your budget can’t be boosted, and/or payments delayed or discharged in small installments, choose the lab where you will be happy to go to work in the morning.
29. PF3 Competing Demands, Source
Q: I supervise a small group. What tips should I follow?
As: Use Anatomy of a Research Report in an initial orienting conversation with each student, as a guide and roadmap to what lies ahead. If you delegate supervision to older students in the group, remain very watchful. Ultimately your supervisees’ learning, satisfaction, and productivity mirror your care. Their dedication and outcomes reflect yours.
30. PF4 Career Opportunities, Source
Q: I’m offered a second, named post-doctoral fellowship at one renowned university, and a professorship at another.
As: If your goal is an independent career, it’s beneficial, on the whole, to launch it as soon as you can, at a workplace that will enable and encourage it. If students there are knowledgeable, well trained, and imaginative; and if resources suffice, you will be fortunate. Regrettably these three contributors to success do not always or automatically coexist, necessitating a weighed choice.
31. PF5 Career Opportunities, Source
Q: Should I try for university funding supporting a postdoctoral research group?
As: As a postdoc, your attention will be directed to learning novel techniques and technologies, writing an article or two, drafting job proposals, applying/interviewing for positions, and equipping/staffing your future lab, to name a few concerns. If, amid these, you are also able to prove yourself as the head of a small group, more power to you. This funding is typically limited to one, possibly two, students, making the group small and more or less manageable.
32. PF6 Career Pathways, Source
Q: Can I accept a simultaneous internship?
As: Most PIs will nix an external internship unless skills to be acquired directly benefit your project or another in the group, and then only if it is brief, e.g., one-two weeks.
33. PF7 Career Pathways
Q: A second academic postdoc, or a senior scientist position at a prominent institute?
As: Lengthy or multiple postdoc positions are usually taken as signaling slow starters. If short and productive, the second can probably be explained, but you have a good alternative. When institute positions offer at least some independence and resources for success, they can lead to academic professorships, should you wish one.
34. PF8 Career Pathways
Q: Staff scientist position at my current university, or an assistant professorship cross-country?
As: Naturally you’re comparing these positions on factors such as proximity to family and friends, departmental supportiveness, professional autonomy, resource availability, and so on. Bottom line, the career clock is ticking. If an academic career is your goal, we advise you to start it.
35. PF9 Competing Demands, Source
Q: A colleague is making unwanted advances.
As: We are very sorry. Nobody needs this. Immediately try to ensure a third person is always present, or leave the room if you can. Next, document each inappropriate contact from first to last, citing date, time, location, and circumstances, for your advisor. S/he may meet with this person and his/her advisor toward an agreement ending the bad behavior. Otherwise, your advisor and you have no choice but to refer harassment to the Department Chair.
36. PF10 Competing Demands, Source
Q: Do I own source code I wrote for software patented by my PI outside our university?
As: Often, even seemingly external companies or patents are university spinoffs whose ownership accords with laws in the country where services are contracted, conducted, financed, and/or patented. Reread your employment contract and university’s Intellectual Property declaration. If questions remain, consult your ombusperson or a campus Legal Counsel.
37. PF11 Career Pathways
Q: Though just starting my postdoc at a highly ranked university, I’m offered an assistant professorship at a local community college.
As: This choice depends on your personal and career goals. Which do you value more: teaching and encouraging often-first generation students; or conducting state of the art research? If you choose the former only to rethink your decision later, you will find it difficult, if not impossible, as time passes, to rejoin a university research track. In contrast, the opposite directionality is almost always attainable.
38. PF12 Competing Demands, Source
Q: Midway through writing an article, I’m asked by competitors to forward my data and text.
As: A bold request. Interested parties should contact your PI, who will surely reply by explaining that the article is as yet (and, until accepted for publication, will remain) too incomplete for viewing.
39. PF13 Competing Demands, Source
Q: I strongly disagree with a referee report.
Q: My manuscript is rejected because it is too similar to another.
Q: I have reason to suspect that a referee who rejected my paper is plagiarizing it.
Q: My research supervisor asked me to write a lengthy grant proposal drawn on my doctoral dissertation for a research project new to his lab. I later learned that he submitted the proposal under his name alone, and that only he was credited when it was granted.
As: We are very sorry this is happening to you. Many of us have had this dark experience. A formal rebuttal is the crux of your response. Dispute, and provide proofs, point by point. If you aren’t heeded, your only recourse is to submit the documentation to an ethics committee.
40. PF14 Career Pathways, Source
Q: How do I assess the quality of a journal?
As Summary: We’re sure you gained familiarity, as a doctoral student, with the premier peer-reviewed and open-source journals in your field. If you haven’t heard of a journal and its journal impact factor (JIF), or have any other reason to doubt its bona fides, check with your advisor or university resource librarian.
41. PF15 Competing Demands, Source
Q: An anonymous reviewer of my article wrongly assumes I’m male.
As: Fortunately it’s easy to remedy this error. Mention the correction in a brief note thanking the reviewer for taking time to read your work. Ask your journal editor to forward the note.
42. PF16 Competing Demands
Q: I’m so overwhelmed.
As: We sympathize. It often helps to ask a knowledgeable colleague to prioritize realistic estimates of task and life demands with you, and for you in turn to do the same for that colleague. The sense of drowning lifts a lot when one feels less isolated. It is equally liberating to accept that there will always be more to do than one possibly can. Why not, therefore, refresh yourself with a daily walk, swim, coffee with friends, or nap?
Every campus has centers available to you that address virtually every concern or need that may arise: counseling, coaching, tutoring, study skills, health, illness, disability, recreation and relaxation, studying as a parent, finances, harassment, bullying, discrimination, lack of gender and ethnic diversity. Avail yourself of one or many.
43. PF17 Competing Demands, Source
Q: My advisor is highly secretive, not at all collaborative.
As: What misfortune, we wonder, gave rise to this behavior. On one side of your ledger, you’re not being taught as much as you could be, and the group atmosphere too is disadvantageous. What are the benefits of working with this advisor? Are you learning more than how not to conduct yourself in your future? Ask your colleagues or lab manager for an explanation of the PI’s taciturnity, and weigh the pros and cons of continuing on.
44. PF18 Competing Demands
Q: I train and supervise an excellent student on a PI-originated project. The student and I share bench work, analysis, and writing 50-50. How will this distribution influence our article authorship?
As: As lab heads responsible for investigations’ caliber and correctness, PIs generally serve as corresponding author. This distinction is sometimes given to postdocs who propose and design a project, with the consequence of transferring not only plaudits but also liability for errors or fraud. Here we would make you first author, and the student either co-first author, given your praise for her/his contribution, or not.
45. PF19 Career Pathways
Q: What are job interviewers looking for?
As: Interviewers will winnow out applications that are misspelled, sloppy, unintelligible, unrelated to the job call, and uninformed about the host university, e.g., its location or key characteristics. If invited to interview, you will chiefly be asked various forms of the question, “How is your research influenced by your training?” This probes to what degree your proposals, as well as current and past work, are attributable to you as versus your advisor.
46. PF20 Career Pathways
Q: Can an academic be happy and successful in the outside world?
As: Yes, of course. It takes time to become accustomed to the differences, but your training has imparted innumerable transferable attributes and skills to you. These include curiosity, preparedness, thoroughness, quickness to learn, care, competence, neat-handedness, organization, planning and multi-tasking, literacy, numeracy, computer skills, collaboration, and excellent communication both verbal and written.
47. PF21 Competing Demands
Q: Is it counterproductive to express full honesty on grant proposals?
As: Proposals straddle a fine line. Your goal is to promote yourself and your ideas, yet never at the expense of accuracy. Hampering outside reproducibility by staying silent about open questions or competing factors will call into question your awareness and grasp of the subject, your ethics, or both. Slant toward (your) solutions when expressing necessary reservations. Anatomy of a Research Report gives many examples of how to do this.
48. PF22 Competing Demands
Q: Our PI is always touching us on the arms, shoulders, or back. We step away politely but he isn’t getting the message and I have no time to get into a big legal hassle.
As Summary: You can start with a polite unsigned message in his mailbox: “Dear Professor X, We your supervisees ask that you refrain from touching us. This breach of advisor-advisee etiquette is causing us anxiety and inquietude. We thank you for considering our request.” In this way the group remains protected against retribution while informing him of the issue and its impacts. If such a note has no effect, re-send it marked “Copy 2;” and if that second note is disregarded a delegation should speak to your department chair.
49. PF23 Career Pathways
Q: My PI is an idiot. He does one thing only, one way only.
As: Hey, harsh. Your advisor was presumably hired and awarded tenure to do that work that way. A committee of internal and external evaluators agreed on its worth. Yes, your own scientific interests and directions may differ from his, as will your successors’ in their turn depart from yours. If you can’t take interest in, or be convinced by, his, seek another group.
50. GS24 Career Opportunities, Source
Q: May I ask a hiring committee why they are interested in me?
As: You cannot count on a straightforward answer to such an inquiry. As you can imagine, some behind the scenes issues, such as fierce arguments, aren’t generally aired with candidates. Still, you have a right to the question and some form of answer. For best likelihood of honesty, we suggest asking at a point of relative informality such as dinner, the close of the interview day, or at a final group interview if there is one.
III. Assistant Professor
51. AP1 Career Pathways
Q: What are my pre-tenure social obligations?
As: Though campus cultures vary, we suggest accepting every invitation to coffee, fundraisers, barbecues, bowling, and baby showers. Attend as many university events as you can, especially those organized by students. In this context, we mention a recent study reported in Fortune (De Wei, 17 February 2023) to the effect that upper leadership tiers tend to feature not necessarily the highest intellects but rather acumen, charisma, and likability. Put another way, don't skip social hours to get more done.
52. AP2 Work-Life Balance
Q: Is being very overweight is working against me?
As: Pragmatically speaking, all persons can learn ways of dressing that spotlight strong points and conceal weak ones. An excellent department store and/or personal shopper can advise you to this effect, if you wish. Beyond that, and far more importantly, health and your positive state of mind come first and foremost. Maintain a strong focus on rewarding interpersonal relationships and job satisfaction. Appreciate your work, family, and friends; encourage student growth; enjoy community and service activities; and associate more with happy, well fed, kind, and compassionate colleagues than hungry, hair-trigger, belligerent ones.
53. AP3 Competing Demands
Q: At conferences I’m asked questions patently intended to embarrass me.
As Summary: Probing, testing questions train us to communicate effectively. Harshly critical, public point-scoring, sarcastic, mean-spirited, or personal questions are inappropriate. The latter may be repeated clearly and resoundingly, prefaced by “You asked–.” In this way, you are ensuring that all the audience hears the question’s foolishness. Continue by answering the question with exquisite courtesy, at face value, as though it were legitimate.
Moderators should add a request to chat briefly with offenders following the session, and inform conference organizers of verbal abuse or any other untoward behavior.
54. AP4 Competing Demands
Q: Some questioners at conferences go on so self-referentially and self-importantly that I lose track of the question.
As: Your choices depend on how tired you are after your talk, and on how charitable or courageous you feel. You may listen to the question until its very end, pause for several moments, then ask the questioner to summarize briefly. Alternately, after ten seconds, you may hold up your hand, palm facing out, and inquire, politely, “Excuse me, what is your question?”
55. AP5 Competing Demands
Q: The campus newspaper is requesting an interview. Tips?
As: Beware inexperienced student reporters who garble, sensationalize, or misrepresent research and background at interviewees’ expense, giving rise to amusement or consternation among colleagues and necessitating follow up damage control. Courteously and respectfully, ensure as much editing authority as you can.
56. AP6 Career Pathways
Q: What should my tenure file contain?
As: Your department will provide directions and guidance. However, it never hurts to be prepared for as many eventualities as possible. We recommend compiling, and keeping up to date, indexed copies of publications, funded grant proposals, conference presentations, annual reports, a listing of upper and lower level courses taught by year, student evaluation summaries by year, names of graduate students and postdocs in your group by year, names of alumni and their current positions, service activities, outreach activities, and fan mail.
57. AP7 Competing Demands
Q: My conference slot follows colleagues infamous for speaking long past their time allocation.
As: Before the session block begins, alert your moderator that it may be necessary to intervene. Warn, or more likely remind, her/him of the possible problem, and provide a hard copy of each speaker’s scheuled start and end time.
58. AP8 Competing Demands
Q: So many requests for committee and other service commitments.
As: Some requests conveyed as invitations are actually directives, e.g., those from far above. Still, you might try the following formulation, delivered with deference and in evident desperation: “I sincerely apologize that I’m in full tenure press for the next # months. I hope that the next time you do me the honor of inviting me to participate, I’ll be in a much better position to accept with alacrity.” It’s difficult to maintain priorities when requests continuously flow in, but for sanity’s sake you must try.
59. AP9 Competing Demands
Q: On what grounds can tenure be revoked and professors dismissed?
As: In our experience, reasons generally cited are neglectful, harmful, unprofessional, and criminal behavior, but these criteria tend to be somewhat subject to interpretation. Assuming the job is conducted scrupulously and well, the chief reason for dismissal, again in our experience, is an unfounded or unproven accusation against a colleague or student.
60. AP10 Competing Demands
Q: I'm a technician whose lab is adjacent to a new assistant professor’s. While capable and goodhearted, this young professor is concentrating on all the wrong things. For example, she's started a wonderful community outreach program, but still has no publications midway to her tenure decision. I’m not in a position to advise her, but worry about her.
As: We thank you for caring about this coworker and her career. Might you know of a senior colleague who can be supportive, direct, and helpful in speaking with her? Career counseling should already be taking place, but may not be.
61. AP11 Competing Demands
Q: Will male colleagues always resent recognition I receive?
A: Very possibly, especially in highly competitive environments. Word may reach you that these colleagues attribute your success to gender politics; do not await or expect congratulations from them. Instead, take the high road. Always attribute honors and prizes to your group, colleagues, predecessors, and a strongly supportive departmental and university environment. Repeat and reiterate that visibility for one is visibility for all.
62. AP12 Competing Demands
Q: I’m expected to, but can’t, write a recommendation for an angry, under-achieving postdoc.
A: Before interviewing the first applicants to your group, we advise formulating several group performance and ethics standards, and clearing these with the university’s legal counsel. When interviewing, verbally review the checklist, then date and sign it.
We ask requesters to write their own letter drafts. You’ll find that many judge themselves more stringently than you would, though the opposite can of course occur. In this case, we suggest sending a letter that dispassionately summarizes the postdoc’s (unattained) project goals. Make no mention at all of personal attributes. Recipients will interpret this correctly. If you feel strongly enough about this postdoc, place a telephone call. Declining to write a recommendation at all would create many more administrative and legal problems than you want.
63. AP13 Career Pathways Source
Q: Why do academic adjuncts remain in their positions for years?
As: Many adjuncts consciously choose part-time work for a multitude of personal and professional reasons. Others do continuously seek other opportunities, but are stymied because research skills quickly lose their currency, because they cannot undertake full time employment, or both.
64. AP14 Career Opportunities, Source
Q: How can I train my students and postdocs to write high-quality research papers?
As: Anatomy of a Research Report is a sentence-by-sentence checklist for scientific communication, both written and verbal. It articulates the purpose of each sentence of a research report, providing not only examples from various disciplines but specific vocabulary to use or avoid. When new persons start a project in your group, use ARR to guide an introduction to their project and to point out what lies ahead. Later on, group members preparing presentations or papers may use ARR to check and correct these before they reach your own desk. This represents a considerable savings in time and effort for you.
65. AP15 Work-Life Balance, Source
Q: How honest should I be with my group about the realities of life in academia?
As: Fully, because knowing as much as possible is a prerequisite to an informed choice. Should this honest account prove daunting or discouraging, there are alternatives to academic careers: start-ups; industry; teaching at various levels; patent agent or attorney; funding agency program officer; outreach and exhibit design at museums, science centers, zoos, and aquariums; communications, e.g., journal editor, science writer, columnist, public relations, and/or media presenter; public policy advisor; and program/institute administrator, to name only some.
66. AP16 Competing Demands
Q: I try to prioritize, but flounder nonproductively every day.
As: If possible, maintain your boundaries in a very disciplined, scheduled way. You might budget one non-negotiable hour per weekday to group and staff contact, one hour to writing, and one to personal time. On weekends, you could dedicate more time to writing and personal care. Choose TAs carefully and well. Some professional organizations can recommend career coaches payable from grants.
67. AP17 Work-Life Balance
Q: This is my cry from the heart. My partner and I are both assistant professors approaching tenure decisions. How can we balance our careers, a toddler, and an infant?
As: If dividing family and home management between the two of you isn’t working out, you need a helper or helpers. Keep in mind that on your deathbed you’re unlikely to cry out, “Oh, why did I not write another review of the research?” Rather, you’ll want your family rallied around you. Make time for them. Love and enjoy them.
68. AP11 Competing Demands, Source
Q: A paper I’m reviewing has independently duplicated work that we are writing up. In short, I’m being scooped. How to proceed?
As: In fast-moving science, being first among several is increasingly recognized as irrelevant. For this reason, journals are adopting “complementary research” policies in which related papers are published back to back, benefiting all parties by expanding the substance and reach of studies that are overlapping but not identical, demonstrating the robustness of related results, making replication studies more cost effective, and increasing readership for all authors.
Contact the editor who assigned you the manuscript. Depending on how far from completion your own article is, it may be possible to publish both articles jointly. Should you still consider it crucial to edge ahead, you might return to the bench yourself and/or distribute small sub-project pieces to friends on an emergency basis. However, we advise avoiding a crisis mode for which there is no real need.
69. AP12 Competing Demands, Source
Q: How to triage too many publication and proposal review requests?
As: There are multiple reasons to review, as you know. First, one learns. Second, one hopes that journals or agencies in question will reciprocate by becoming more aware of, and open to, one’s own research. This being so, most of us prioritize journals and agencies most relevant to our research, and formulate for ourselves some rule of thumb such as a ratio of two-three reviews to one published paper of one’s own.
70. AP13 Competing Demands, Twitter/#AcademicChatter
Q: Inter-group writing is going very poorly, impacting the entire collaboration.
As: Collaborative writing requires a priori agreements such as a timeline and the task plan shown in Anatomy of a Research Report. Generally it is the most senior collaborator who issues reminders; checks and compiles contributions; and redistributes drafts for approval.
71. AP14 Career Opportunities, Source
Q: It’s my first time formally recruiting students to my program and department.
As: Student recruitment days usually proceed on Science Slam-like lines. Prospects gather at a specific place, day, and time, and, In brief sessions ranging from 10-20 minutes depending on the number of presenters involved, receive accounts of departmental research. Again as in Science Slams, the most successful presentations tell a rousing, even suspenseful story that incorporates clear scientific and social purpose, state of the art graphics and animations, and manipulable or take home props. Visibly show excitement and keenness about your research program.
72. AP15 Career Opportunities
Q: My first postdoc is applying for jobs. She’s exceptionally good.
As: Two job markets exist in parallel: the visible one that manifests on career sites and job boards, and a shadow counterpart that head hunts within relationship webs. Unsurprisingly, the most prized positions usually surface among the latter. To access the shadow market, the postdoc, and/or you on her behalf, must know colleagues at many universities very well, and vice versa.
For jobs in industry, where you may not have as wide a network, LinkedIn is an essential sourcing tool for recruiters and hiring managers. Facilitate their locating the postdoc by optimizing her profile for discovery by LinkedIn Search. If the profile is a compelling representation of who she is, what she can do, and what she seeks in a career, she’ll receive offers of opportunities.
73. AP16 Work-Life Balance
Q: A student in my group attempted suicide.
As: We grieve for the student and you. Following such a shocking event, both of you must seek informed counsel. Offer support to your group too. Many of them will soon supervise junior coworkers, if not already doing so. Through this experience, they may learn to recognize signs of fracture in their supervisees and themselves. Compile helping techniques as a group. Somehow this serious concern seems less cripplingly scary as an exercise.
There are many reasons – interpersonal, personal, familial, medical, emotional, and social as well as professional – that may have taken the student into such a despairing state. Likewise, there are many ways back from the brink. Essential to stability in all of us, we find, is a supporter. It is a crucial safety valve to have someone provide steady interest and encouragement, listen, offer solace, and celebrate along with us.
74. AP17 Career Pathways
Q: I am the only person of my specialization at my university. My closest mentors are retired or have passed away. Where can I turn for supportive letters required for grants, fellowships, and promotions?
As: Unknown to you, there are likely colleagues elsewhere on campus who make use of the same data sets, instrumentation, methods, and funding sources you do, and who can perhaps comment on your program outcomes. To identify these persons, scan colloquium schedules and identify their hosts. Read university annual reports and press releases; and ask chancellors, deans, and vice presidents of research for introductions. When you yourself publish, briefly inform your department chair, dean, women's studies programs, campus newspapers, university news bureau, town newspaper, and alumni bulletins.
Enlarge your network by following up on related campus colloquia, entering into collaborations internal and external to the university, and making contacts at external conferences leading up to organizing your own.
75. AP18 Career Pathways
Q: My record of peer-reviewed publications in top journals, citations, service, awards, and other accomplishments is objectively superior to my male counterpart’s. However, our tenure committee has ranked his research of higher quality, and awarded him alone tenure.
As: Our most sincere sympathies are with you. A tiring but, we hope, ultimately more successful road lies ahead.
Perhaps you wish to challenge this ruling internally or externally to the university. Taking the latter first, few outside attorneys specialize in academic promotion procedures. Fortunately, many litigators, and virtually all universities and cities, do participate in job discrimination task forces. You can also call on guidance and support from national organizations for women, associations of university women, national unions, and many books.
Within the university, faculty senates and faculty unions can help determine how “higher quality” was assessed. Your record appears stellar, but these achievements sometimes count less than they should if your colleagues consider you a misfit or dislike you. We have known an entire institute to disband and reform in new guise minus a colleague considered untenable, rather than retain said colleague.
Naturally you may also investigate academic and think tank positions elsewhere, or make further use of your skills by retraining as an attorney, fundraiser, journalist, and/or activist. We wish you every success.
76. AP19 Career Pathways, Source
Q: I’m offered tenure but don’t intend to stay at this university forever.
As: It’s not expected that you will stay forever. Especially if you are successful, you will likely be recruited elsewhere. Or perhaps you mean that you’re contemplating leaving academic life period, for opportunities that will eventually result in leaving active research. In the latter case, consider backup options early on, and keep them open.
77. AP20 Competing Demands, Source
Q: Authors of an article ignored my review feedback. I’m now asked by another journal to review the identical article.
As: The authors gambled on a new reviewer, and lost. Submit the same report.
78. AP21 Competing Demands, Source
Q: On what grounds are my new colleagues most likely to approve of me?
As: Professionally, the gold standard is excellent work well communicated to peers, in speaking engagements as well as in print, rewarded by recognition and financial underwriting.
On a personal level, some would advise keeping your head down, calling no particular attention to yourself, making no waves, pursuing no causes, engaging in no controversy, and remaining quietly deferential to all. We consider that stance not only antiquated but likely to backfire. If you stay a cipher, if your colleagues do not know what is important to you and what you represent, they will be unable to support you now and at tenure time. If you have a choice between causes that benefit outsiders only, and those that also benefit your department or university, you might want to opt for the latter.
79. AP22 Career Pathways, inspired by Source
Q: What are pros and cons of an assistant professorship at a primarily undergraduate college?
As: If you seek an active academic research career, the answer is evident. Institutions dedicated to teaching attract brilliant educators who enrich the entire campus. Some conduct hands-on research alongside their group, taking teaching even further, such that powerhouse students hungry to learn receive the education of their lives. Chances are, however, that you will meet more research-trained young coworkers, and have access to better resources, at a research-oriented university.
80. AP23 Competing Demands
Q: The head of my institute has diverted most of a department-wide donation to his own research. I myself, as a new professor low in seniority, will receive no part of it.
As: If it is the head’s prerogative to distribute the funds as he wishes, questioning him, however courteously, will not only fail but create enmity. We regret that you’re unlikely to secure any part of the donation despite your right to fair resource distribution. In fact, the only hope for any positive outcome is future impartiality and greater transparency to come. Consider volunteering for the university budgetary committee. END