Part of my job is to give advice. I am an adviser of students, and I serve on committees and panels with an advisory role. Reviewing manuscripts and proposals involves giving advice. And, although it's not part of my job, I respond to (some) e-mails from FSP readers asking for advice.
I prefer to give advice that helps explain or at least explores some options, ideas, and/or relevant facts that someone can use make a decision. Giving advice doesn't require saying "You should do THIS" (or THAT).
Of course in my professional life I do sometimes have to say "(I think) You should do THIS" (or THAT). You should take this class. This paper should be rejected. We should hire this person and not that person. Such things are part of teaching and advising and making professional decisions.
When it comes to complex issues involving other people's decisions about school, work, or life, however, my interest in telling someone what to do decreases dramatically. That is why I am not very good about providing useful advice to those who send me email. Questions like: Should I quit the PhD program because I live far from my boyfriend? Should I tell my adviser that I detest his/her advising style? Should I accept a visiting professor position? Is it a bad idea to have a baby before I get tenure?
If I were to answer for myself, based only on my own life experiences and thinking only of what has or would work best for me, my answers to those questions are: no, no, yes, and no.
If I were to answer for someone else, my answers are: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know, and I don't know.
I don't mind getting emails with questions about Major Life Decisions (though I can't respond to all the email that I get). Sometimes it can help to get another perspective or to bounce an idea off someone else, even (or perhaps especially) someone you don't know. I hope, though, that any advice (such as it is) that I give is just one part of the dataset used in the whole complex decision process.
The most difficult question for me to answer is also one of the most common questions that I get: Should I leave [my graduate program, postdoc, tenure-track/tenured position] so that I can live with my [geographically distant] beloved?
These emails are all from women. I hope that somewhere there are an equal number of males who have similar questions about their own careers.
10 months ago