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Career tip – A generational thing? August 29, 2011

Posted by fetzthechemist in Uncategorized.
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Grad students and postdocs are at the start of their careers. They think they understand this, but in reality are almost clueless when the pavement meets the road. Yes, the papers that come out then are the only papers that the person has – at that moment. In three, four, or five years, though, those will be minor past history, a trivial footnote or a few lines in the CV. They will no longer be that important.

Why does this issue come up? Because over and over again, grad students and postdocs quarrel with each other and the professor over authorship order and acknowledgements of that sort. These fights, in the longer term, leave behind an antagonized former professor who will never come to bat for that person. No good recommendations, no linking into that professor’s own network, no future opportunities through a good word here and there.

If there are also antagonized former labmates, too, then the chances for future damage are greater and that might include doors to opportunities being closed. That is an outgrowth of human nature. But the current generation has been raised to be more “in your face”, to be more confrontational. That makes these situations even more dangerous from a career standpoint.

Being in this situation of arguing over what you feel is right can lead to career-damaging things. But if the person takes the attitude that it is a negotiation to get as much as possible, then the interactions can be kept at discussions and dialogue.

The grad student or postdoc is really fighting a quixotic battle. One that sounds important now, but leaves the fighter battered and bruised for years. This does not mean to surrender completely, though. It means fight the battle that you can win. Get as much as you can, until the resistance says to let go and move on. Once a grad student gets the degree or a postdoc finishes up, then their next steps are to build their reputations in the next locale.

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