Advice for a young investigator

May 11 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

Stay away from assholes.

That's it! Whenever I've followed that advice that was given me as a grad student I've been glad I did, whenever I've not followed this advice I've regretted it. This applies to mentors, big shot collaborators, colleagues and trainees. If they are established and confirmed assholes – stay away, if your asshole-meter is ringing all over the place – stay away. The corollary of this advice, of course is: don't become an asshole yourself.

19 responses so far

  • Dino says:

    If only it was that easy to avoid assholes... Especially established assholes that do whatever they please.

    • namnezia says:

      Agreed! I should have added that this isn't always easy advice to follow. And things are best said in hindsight.

  • odyssey says:

    Sometimes it's impossible to completely avoid assholes. There are a couple in my dept - kind of difficult to get away from them sometimes. But you can work to minimize contact.

    Nam's corollary is key. Assholishness can be contagious. Immunize yourself and make sure you have regular booster shots.

    • ampanmdagaba says:

      I just read a quote from some famous person (and of course I cannot find it now) that success and fame poison everyone, and after hitting a true success one has a year or two to not become an asshole. After two years it becomes permanent and irreversible.

      I don't remember whether it was a quote about book publishing, Nobel prizes, or something else. If you happen to recognize the quotation, please let me know! =)

      • namnezia says:

        Nah, I think most assholes are born that way (or become so early on). They just hide it until they are in power.

        • ampanmdagaba says:

          It seems to me hat most people are in-between the extremes of sainthood and rampant ashollery, keeping themselves in check, and being kept in check by other humans around them. But when "power corrupts", it's because these check systems, both internal and external, are collapsing in the presence of a large power differential.

  • Neuro Polarbear (@NeuroPolarbear) says:

    I guess that means that detecting assholes is a vital skill.

    Maybe a follow-up blog post on how to detect assholes?

  • Nat says:

    A business/design school professor from Stanford wrote a great little book on this subject. "The No Asshole Rule." It's based on a lot of research, but's quite fun to read.

  • youknowwho says:

    That's good advice in general. Assholes graduate students and postdocs can do as much damage to a young investigator's career as established big-shot assholes. At least the latter are known and can be avoided, but the former often can't, and you find out when it's too late.

  • banditokat says:

    This. My asshole metric is when you first meet someone and right out of the gates, they sharing dirt on other people. I know good people when they are like, "Oh, what you're doing is cool....have you read this? Or "you should meet so-and-so," or "here's a good resource".

    The assholes are like "Oh, that person. They're a dickke".

    Nope. You don't have anything nice to say esp when meeting new students or faculty, you're an asshole. Also, you should STFU because everyone thinks you're an asshole.

    "Great Minds Discuss Ideas; Average Minds Discuss Events; Small Minds Discuss People"

    • youknowwho says:

      yes - happened at coffee shop: new faculty, who just started, two minutes after being introduced to few others starts trashing the work of another member of the same dept, who's not present. The portrait of an asshole.

      • GMP says:

        This seems to be bread into people from certain schools. They throw names around (even graduate students and junior faculty speak as if they are on first-name basis with a vast number of senior famous folks) and are quick to dismiss people are insufficiently awesome based on superficial qualifiers (i.e., not from top 5 school and not their advisor's buddy). Assholes definitely breed other assholes (or likely strongly attract proto-assholes).

    • namnezia says:

      What if they're calling-out people for being assholes?

  • ProdigalAcademic says:

    I totally agree with youknowwho. Having asshole students or postdocs from your own group associated with you is a HUGE problem when you are just starting out. Not only are they morale killers and sources of aggravation within the group, but outsiders who don't know you will meet them and assume you are an asshole too.

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