>On the importance of getting help

Apr 13 2010 Published by under Uncategorized

>I'm not generally a fan of titles that begin with prepositions, but whatever. They are certainly better than titles that end with question marks. I digress.

I have been noticing recently that I get a LOT of help from folks around me. I changed fields of research completely for my postdoc, so there I had a lot of things to learn before I could be an "expert". Luckily for me, the folks in my new lab were generous with their time and information. I also joined another lab's weekly meetings to learn about broader aspects of my new fields. The other PI didn't have to let me come to their meetings, or waste time letting me present, but he did. Many of the people from this other lab helped me learn new techniques, guide me through the early literature (and the unpublished background stories that help it make sense) and even share reagents. Folks around here read my papers and grant applications, wrote me letters (LOTS of letters) and sat through various practice talks over the years. When I went on the job market, some of the faculty here offered to sit through practice chalk talks and job talks and even gave me tips about things that job searches are looking at. I even got advice on what to wear! When I started getting offers, I ran them by the newer faculty here and got advice on negotiating. People shared the spreadsheets from their own start-up and shared aspects that they would do differently. This has all been HUGELY helpful for me. Even though the transition to a PI is still a little daunting, without this help I'm sure that it would be completely overwhelming.

I am sure that I am lucky to be in such a collegial and collaborative environment. In fact, that was one aspect of what attracted me to Fancy Research Institute for my postdoc. But, I don't think everyone here at FRI feels the same way. I go out of my way to get help. I ask for advice, drop by people's desks/offices and actively seek out criticism. Because really, if everyone tells you that you are always doing a good job they are blowing smoke up your ass, or just trying to get rid of you. If folks don't want to help, fine. I won't bother them anymore. But most people will help (at least here at FRI). And as far as I'm concerned, the more critical (as long as its constructive), the better. Even the best talk you ever gave could be better, and if it hurts your feelings when someone tells you that, then GET OVER IT. Some fellow postdocs at my practice job talk were horrified because it was a bloodbath. But that is because I asked the most critical people I could find to sit in. Sure, it kinda sucked at the time. But no one was attacking me personally, just helping make my talk better. And now I have a job.

Anywho, the moral of the story is: ask for advice. From anyone that will listen. The more the better. Then sift through it and filter out the good stuff. Being as Asst Prof can seem pretty lonely (so far), but already I have started wandering into my colleagues' offices to "chat". Because that is how this business works, IMO. It seems that official "mentor" panels for Asst Profs seem to be very common now. But I bet that if you wait for your committee meeting it will be too late. There isn't enough time on the tenure clock. I'm sure that this whole little entry is pretty obvious to anyone that is cruising around the blogosphere, since there is so much good advice stockpiled up. But still, talk to the people around you. Get coffee with everyone before seminar. Talk to people in the hallways. Bounce ideas off others around you. Better to get an idea shot down in-house (among friends, hopefully) than out in public.

Final thought: Asking for help (and getting it) is great. But so is giving help. It's a two-way road in my opinion. I guess this is sort of like being a reviewer/editor (FSP has a great series on this topic). Everyone has to play a part.

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