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Advice I wish I was Given

Advice I wish I was Given

To new postdocs, early career researchers, fresh PhD graduates, and to anyone interested:

Below is a list of bullet points that I wish someone had shared with me prior to entering the field of academia. Consider it as advice, as flagging, as a caution statement, as whatever you want, but please do consider it.

Before I start, thank you Polina for inspiring this blog post. The questions you posed were the generator behind the following.

  • Read every single word and check every single link on your contract. Prioritise inquiring about any vague terminology over signing the contract in the time given to you. This may seem obvious, but many fall into this trap due to the intensity of information in contracts. Do not be overconfident. One word can change a lot.
  • Request detailed university policy documents on dignity, harassment, bullying, etc and read those thoroughly BEFORE you sign your contract. Better safe than sorry.
  • Trust your gut feeling before you trust anyone or anything. Some people on this planet deserve to be treated as guilty until proven innocent and not vice versa. Let your gut feeling decide.
  • Make sure that the data you collect and analyse is also yours, and that “Intellectual Property” and legal terms won’t come between you and all your efforts during your time working on a project or after it. Do not rely on the “norm” that line managers will always be supportive of your growth. This is not always the case. Some prioritise anything but your growth. Some love hoarding data that they do not and will not understand. Some are shamelessly greedy.
  • This field seems to have a very high concentration of narcissists and egomaniacs, and a lot of psychologically and mentally unstable individuals. Do protect yourself from the damage they may intentionally or unintentionally inflict on you.
  • This field sometimes suffers from severe management deficiency and severe accountability deficiency. Keep those two points in mind. Do not feel the urge or need to manage due to the lack of a minimally skilled line manager. Do not expect that wrong doings by those on permanent contracts will subject them to accountability. The system as a whole is not built for that. A vast number of academics think that they are Godesses and Gods who can never be in the wrong.
  • If you hear “I normally do not trust people with work but I am trusting you. You are different” raise that god damn red flag. Quickly.
  • Do not fall for the fackery and fuckery of self importance of many academics.
  • Beware of circular conversations that do not go anywhere. Those are normally a sign of dodging responsibility.
  • Beware of covert abuse. Especially if in a language that does not happen to be neither your nor the other person’s first language/mother tongue. Try to process abuse and manipulation quickly by translating what is being said into your mother tongue. Give a second chance, and maybe a third, but do not give more. Never.
  • Do understand the psychology of projection because it is unfortunately a very common practice in this field. The same applies to word salad and gaslighting. Understand them well.
  • Be careful of the trap of saving all your work onto a shared drive. Keep your raw intellect to yourself. Share only what is required and if no clear requirements are set, ask for clarity (good luck though). Do not volunteer your brain to someone who will hoard, butcher, and claim it. No one deserves your raw intellect. No one at all.
  • Immediately red flag anyone who refuses to communicate by email regardless of the excuse given. Rejecting written communication is a twisted approach to avoiding documentation and thus accountability. Beware of those individuals.
  • Do not let anyone try to box you or mould you. Reject being a clone to other academics or to follow a “canon” just because you have to. Keep your own voice, keep your own personality, and keep your own self.
  • Anything that sounds like a one size fits all sweeping statement should immediately be disregarded. Anyone who tries to convince you that one size exists should be immediately red flagged.
  • Do not only read the publications of your to be colleagues but also dig the web for their CVs. Check what they have been doing before as well as when and where. Not all have CVs, but this lack of clear history is sometimes revealing.
  • Do not give more than you take, and by take here I do not mean your salary because you are entitled to that. You are not a slave to an academic. Always think “what am I getting from this and what is the other party getting from me”. If you are giving way more, stop and reconsider. This should be a two way road.
  • Volunteer if you think it serves you in moving ahead and learning new skills. However, do not accept being voluntold to do something. Also, when you volunteer do put a limit to how much you do so. Your intellect is not a charity and you will need to ensure you have a decent livelihood and a healthy life, be it physical or mental.
  • Be you. Maintain your identity and personality. Do not listen to the you must do this and must not do that because the world including academia is bigger and more varied than the rights and wrongs imagined and set by limited minded people.
  • Forward any important or critical communication to your personal email account because the institutional account you will get is as precarious as your contract. It will evaporate along with its content as soon as you leave.
  • As Michelle Obama said: “When they go low, go high” but do not abandon your rights. There are various ways to hold someone accountable (to a certain extent of course) or to shut someone up. Make sure to collect the evidence and make sure to do it legally.
  • This list will probably grow but until then, take care of yourself and your intellect.
  • Here it is growing, please do check