Friday, August 15, 2008

FSP's Guide to Academic Etiquette

From time to time, I find myself giving advice or making strong suggestions via this blog, although I am not much of an advice-giver in real life. As issues arise in the blog, however, I have been randomly numbering snippets of advice and referring to an imaginary guide to academic etiquette. I decided to scroll through the archives and extract some of these, giving them more realistic numbers and lining them up to see what I've suggested in the past.

A glance at the list shows that this is not a comprehensive list of all the things one might want or need to know to navigate through the academic environment, nor is it even a particularly sane list. Some of these items are probably more useful than others. Some are more serious than others. Some are simply strange. In any case, here it is:

FSP's Guide to Academic Etiquette

1. (for academic job applicants) Don’t write about your spouse in your application unless this information is relevant. Otherwise it is obnoxious.

2. (for interviewees) Don’t patronize young people, women, and/or staff during your interview unless you are a jerk. If you are a jerk, go ahead: this is important information.

3. After an interview, send a brief follow-up letter to the hiring committee and/or department Chair to emphasize your interest and to note any updates (new publications, thoughts based on your interview and interactions with students and others). Don't be too schmoozy – just be succinct and sincere and professional. If you don’t send a letter, that’s fine too, but a letter can cement the impression that you are serious about the job.

4. (for interviewers): Don’t ask illegal/unethical questions. If you don’t know what is permissible, find out in advance.

5. (for students and postdocs): If you are paid a salary, you should do the work.

6. (for students visiting a professor in his/her office): If you are going to ask a professor a question and you need to refer to your notes or a book, have these within easy reach, with pages marked.

7A. If someone writes a letter of reference for you, let them know the outcome of your applications.
7B. You don’t have to write to prospective graduate advisors to tell them you’ve decided to go elsewhere, but you should.

8. (for grad applicants) If you wait until the last minute to inform a department of your decision not to attend that program, you are eliminating opportunities for students on the waiting list. If you really didn't decide until the last minute, that's fine. If you know your decision but don't send the official declination of an offer until the last minute, that is selfish, however unintentional.

9. Don’t tell your advisor (or colleagues or students) what your therapist says about them.

10. Run a spell-checker before giving someone a manuscript or other document to read.

11. If you say to someone: "You reviewed my paper", assume that they might not remember this event as well as you do. Provide some supplementary information to help your former reviewer evaluate your statement; for example, ".. and I want to thank you for your useful comments." or ".. and I want you to know that the ignorance displayed by your review is truly staggering." [note: in FSP's Guide to Academic Etiquette, it is permitted to tell someone that they display staggering ignorance, as long as this is said politely and in context.]

12. When writing a review, even if you think the authors are wrong and you think that they have incorrect or inadequate citation of your work and you don’t like their data or their font or their interpretations or the way that they say that your work is flawed, write your criticisms in a constructive and professional way.

13. If you are a co-author, you should respond in a timely way to requests for comments, or at least provide some communication to work out a reasonable timescale within which you can provide input.

14. Before submitting anything for review, notify all co-authors and give them a chance to respond.

15. Only insult people who really deserve it.

16. Don’t be sneaky. Get your own ideas or collaborate. It’s fine to be inspired by someone else’s work, but there is a difference between inspiration and copying.

17. Don’t assume that women are their husbands. [note: that one might be cryptic without the accompanying anecdote]

18A. Don’t threaten or pinch people, even if they disagree with you.
18B. Don’t try to publish after you’re dead. [note: in the original post, these items were actually related]

19. Before introducing a speaker, ask them if they have a preference about what is said during the introduction. Most people won’t, but some may have some general (or specific) preferences about what to mention (e.g., dates, places, awards, crimes).

20. Thank people who help you, even if it is their job to do so.

21. Don’t assume that someone lacks ambition just because they don’t want to be a professor at a big research university.

22. Don’t boast about firing students. It is unseemly. You can of course talk about it, but don’t use these incidents to establish your hard-core credentials.

23. (for teachers) If someone gives you course materials, give some back when you get a chance.

24. Don’t make faculty meetings last longer than necessary unless you have something really important to say.

25. Don’t treat Female Science Professors as a lesser sub-species of Science Professors.


Anonymous said...

Is a book in the offing?

Anonymous said...

26. Don't stare at people's genitalia.
If you are addicted to sex, please get help with your addiction. It negatively affects everyone around you whether you think so or not.

stepwise girl said...

I think this is a useful compilation and many people should read it!

Candid Engineer said...

Haha. I like number 9. Talk about trying to screw with someone's head.

Anonymous said...

These are all excellent and useful points, but I especially want to second #21 "Don’t assume that someone lacks ambition just because they don’t want to be a professor at a big research university."

I have met many professors who seem to feel that choosing to do research at a National Lab is less important than being a professor. It's jerks like them that make people like me run away from acedemia as fast a possible.

Anonymous said...

This should be posted up in every university department and people made to read it. I especially like point 12, if only referees would follow that advice...

Anonymous said...

About point 5: What if you're paid a salary for 20 hours a week and the work asks for 60 hours a week?

(It's purely rhetorical, of course: do you want this PhD yes or no?)

Anonymous said...

22. Don’t boast about firing students. It is unseemly. You can of course talk about it, but don’t use these incidents to establish your hard-core credentials.

Wow thats horrible! I can't imagine someone getting off on killing the dreams of young aspiring scientists. I suppose if the student in question is one of those students whose a student only because they don't want to go into the real world. But bragging about firing a student that works hard but maybe just isn't good enough is just deplorable.

Anonymous said...

Nice compilation.

I'll add:

Don't brag about how much you neglect your family for the sake of work.

AsstFemaleProf said...

I would like to add a corollary to #5: Just because you have a fellowship, does not mean you are "free". Doing research costs money other than your salary.

During my grad school, post-doc and now faculty experience, I have interacted with several grad students with fellowships who seemed to operate under the delusion that just because they had a fellowship they could do whatever they wanted - because they were free. Yes, I agree, I don't have to pay their stipend/tuition. But there are additional costs to research, at least in my field including but not limited to cleanroom fees, equipment fees, conference fees, materials/supplies fees, etc. These, on average, are 50-100k per year, assuming that no equipment needs to be purchased. Then it can be much, much more.

So, while the tuition/stipend part is taken care of, a student is still very, very expensive. And this "entitled" attitude is off-putting - to everyone involved.

Maybe I'm just exceptionally bitter right now because I had a meeting yesterday with one such student who doesn't seem to understand said responsibility to the funding agency paying these fees - because he thinks he is only responsible to his fellowship agency!

Anonymous said...

Good list!


It isn't just National Labs that get the disrespect. I did a postdoc at a national lab, now I teach at a primarily undergraduate institution (PUI), and I got a bunch of crap over that decision. Well, you know, some of us like doing research a lot, we just don't want our main job responsibility to be getting grants for graduate student salaries. One can be ambitious and aim for big achievements but not want to live or die by how much grant money we pull down, especially in the current funding climate.

Yeah, it's easier to say this when I'm a theorist (fewer equipment costs) but still. I work with good students, I'm getting a lot of research done this summer (3 papers, maybe 4, when all is said and done) and I write grants, but I have fewer worries overall.

And I'm probably training your next generation of graduate students. So I wish people would show more respect for us PUI faculty. Yes, we get certain preferences on certain grants, but those grants sometimes come with conditions that are well-intentioned but don't accurately reflect the realities of our work.

(formerly commenting as "Assistant Professor of Physics at a PUI")

Anonymous said...

Shorter version of why I'm at a PUI:

I don't want to be responsible for getting money to support the grad student that FSP just described.

Kea said...

Well, when I was a postgrad I did what I felt like, not because I had a scholarship, but because I think there is something very seriously wrong with introducing people to research by making them work on your ideas. I knew what I wanted to work on, and that's what my thesis was on.

Anonymous said...

Some additions to the "no pinching rule" (you better believe this is true; FSP is not the only female to experience this sort of nonsense)

1) "no blocking of pathways" rule

2) "no threatening to ruin a female scientist's career rule because she makes it clear she considers you creepy" rule

3) "no getting drunk and rating the three women at the conference based on looks" rule

Lisa said...

Excellent ideas. Tweak the wording a little, and you have a guide to Behaving Like a Grown-Up.

flit said...

I second the suggestion of a book!

Extremely entertaining - but pointed list... now I'm off to find out about the pinching incident.

I'm just starting grad school next month English though, nothing scientific :) Looking forward to it...will be interesting going from being a prof to being 'just' a TA, I think.

flitting On Fiction

Anonymous said...

I've always found information like this helpful in my academic career and this post is a great example. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

i read this a while ago, and it still stuck with me... i really wish some people would follow this more rigorously... the lack of professionalism sometimes is astonishing. i have now twice received comments from reviewers that are rude, obnoxious and mis-informed (over the past year!). i know people are busy, but perhaps they should take time to research ideas they are not familiar with before knocking them. so for me - #12 needs to be stressed more frequently!!