Saturday, February 17, 2007

In prep.

As I have been perusing a stack of CV's this week, I am struck yet again by the strange way that some people present themselves in a CV. I'm not going to rant again about the lists of 'in prep.' papers and non-peer reviewed reports listed along with published/submitted papers or even about the strange choices of reference-writers; I've done that before.

Instead, what I am thinking about is how some of my own students and postdocs want my advice on constructing their CV's and research/teaching statements for job applications, and some don't. I should say that I am happy to provide comments on CV construction and on general issues of what goes in a research/teaching statement, but I do not edit the statements. The content and writing style of the statement accompanying an application have to be an accurate reflection of the candidate. I don't ask to see application materials for my own students and postdocs, though I make it clear that I'm happy to if anyone wants me to. Sometimes it's tricky navigating that path between being an advisor who wants to help and letting an advisee know that you think they are ready to go out on their own.

The ones who don't want my advice on their job applications are also the ones who get upset when I have lots of critical comments on their manuscripts and informal talks. And I imagine that for them, getting reviews of papers and proposals - and perhaps also teaching evaluations - will be a continual source of anguish as they continue in their careers. At least my comments are kindly intended and kindly worded, even if I tend to have a lot of them. I wish I could do more to provide all of my students and postdocs with the necessary medium-thick skin needed to deal with a life of reviews, not all of which will be positive or even 'constructively worded'.

A few of my students never completely realize that they will be continually subjected to criticism and evaluation in an academic career. I don't know how they don't know this after years of being in this environment, but some just don't. Example: A couple of years ago, one of my grad students was extremely upset when his co-advisor and I had many critical comments about a document he'd written (sort of a proto-manuscript), even though he had worked very hard. I said that I didn't doubt that he had worked very hard, but the result was far below what was acceptable for even a rough draft of a manuscript, both in terms of writing and content. Our critical comments were intended to help him take the draft to the next level. By that point, he was in tears, and said that I didn't understand how awful it felt to be criticized and he couldn't wait until he could be at a point in his career when he didn't have to go through this anymore. When I told him that we all are continually evaluated, he didn't believe me. I showed him some recent paper and proposal reviews, but somehow these didn't convince him either because they didn't have anything to do with him. Strange. He's still around, but he's not working with me anymore.

And then there are the negative comments you get when you have a blog -- it's sort of like asking for more 'reviews', as if we don't get enough already. Oh well.. bring it on.


bushpigeon said...

One thing I've had a lot of trouble explaining to my post-grads is the difference between "constructive" commentary and "positive" commentary. Many students think the two are synonymous. I had a Ph.D. student tell me that she would only accept "positive" comments from me from now on. (We no longer work together, for obvious reasons).tte

Anonymous said...

One professor I know put quotes from three reviews of his articles on his door.
The first was gushing with praise. The second completed ripped his research apart. The third had something of the form, "This research isn't bad, but it really doesn't add anything to our knowledge. If your journal has some extra space, there's no harm in publishing."

The three were humorous to read together, but they also did a concise job of showing criticism doesn't end.

Dr. Lisa said...

I'm a full-time faculty member in the physical sciences at a community college and am affiliated with a large research university. I spend a lot of time on hiring committees, and I frequently offer to the university to do a resume/CV seminar, but the research profs don't think their students need help. Um, trust me,...they do. Perhaps offering to give a graduate seminar might be received positively, because it won't be as personal. Thanks for taking such an interest in your students!

Female Science Professor said...

I've never suggested exactly that kind of seminar or workshop, but similar ones I've suggested (e.g., to advise undergrads on how to apply to grad school) were dismissed as irrelevant ('Our students don't need that.. blah blah blah'). So now I am thinking that I might organize something for the students/postdocs in my research group, but let it be known that any student is welcome, and just do it that way. The university has workshops for grads/postdocs applying for faculty positions, and most of my students take these workshops, but there aren't any that specifically focus on science/engineering, and so I think some important issues aren't covered much if at all.

Doug Natelson said...

At Rice we've had a really positive reception for an implementation of the NSF's ADVANCE program - see here.
One part that seemed really helpful was to bring in a bunch of would-be faculty candidates, and critique (in a constructive way) their job talks and CVs. The talk criticism was interesting - the participating established faculty members had somewhat divergent ideas about how to pitch a job talk (how important is it to have a generally accessible intro vs. starting off immediately with an elevator pitch: "Here is a TERRIBLE CRISIS IN SCIENCE AND/OR ENGINEERING, and here is how MY RESEARCH hold's the key to solving it!").

Female Science Professor said...

Doug - Thanks for the info and link. That looks like a particularly interesting and useful ADVANCE program.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree with Female Science Professor on the main point she made there. However, I still want to make a note here. Sometimes professors (reviewers) critize someone's work without really looking into it. Then their criticism can sound unfair and make you angry. This kind of incidents are not rare at all. I believe a lot of significant research in natural science and social science were rejected initially due to this reason and later rised because of researchers' persistency. Nevertheless, I agree that every student who want to succeed in academia should learn to positively handle and process criticism.

Ianqui said...

When I told him that we all are continually evaluated, he didn't believe me. I showed him some recent paper and proposal reviews, but somehow these didn't convince him either because they didn't have anything to do with him.

Wow. What does he think goes on in this profession, anyway? If literally showing him reviews doesn't convince him, then he may have no hope.

Anonymous said...

i laughed when i read the story about your (former) male student.

i just received comments back from my first submitted manuscript, and was devastated when i opened them. when i talked them through w/ my advisor (who is as patient and pragmatic as you sound), i realized that directions that our paper will grow and, actually, that the comments were quite positive when put into perspective (e.g. no additional experiments, no major flaws w/ design, etc). but it took talking to someone who'd been through the ringer a couple of times to gain this perspective.

my advisor said the same thing that you did: it's an integral part of the scientific process, and it never ends. which reassures me that my now-thickened skin will serve its purpose far into the future :)

Anonymous said...

Keep up the great work. The purpose of criticism is to add more points of view to an intellectual product, which only benefits from these.

When I was preparing my job talk, I went through multiple rounds of practice talks. The first one was to a large audience (4 faculty and a bunch of students and postdocs). The faculty kept me on for an hour after my talk, going over slide by slide and deconstructing the entire talk. Note that they first prefaced this dressing down with copious encouraging comments, which made it easy to take the critiques. Then the students/postdocs had a go the next day. Finally, my PI took a crack at this revised version, breaking it down and building it back up.

So when I arrived at the interview, I had already seen all the criticisms, the weak points and logical gaps exposed and filled in. Got that and other faculty jobs. Now I solicit critiques on my grant applications and steel myself for the red ink, knowing that once I run this gauntlet, I can take anything the reviewers dish out.

Anonymous said...

The only type of gender discrimination that I have felt as a woman who is a full professor in science is that students (of all levels) consider criticism from me to be more harsh than that from male colleagues because they expect me, as a woman, to be kinder and gentler, and somehow more motherly. So whem I offer straightforward criticism that calls it like I see it they are often put off. I still don't know exactly how to deal with this problem.

Anonymous said...

Gosh, I am so familiar with the "bee there, done that" rant." Just the other day, I had to correct a subordinate at work for using commas to pluralize abbreviations! Things like "MRI's," "DVD's" and "TV's" were just all over the place!!!