Several times already during this last month I’ve seen myself in the troublesome situation of giving advice about how to become a successful academic. I’m not an academic myself so one idea that I try to gently put forward is that one way to be a successful academic is to move out. It’s an option to think about. The second idea that may help is that there are so many ways of being successful during a career at Academia. There are many because Academia doesn’t work in linear ways, although sometimes does, and many times contradicts itself. A few days ago I saw this Twitter thread by Maarten van Smeden (@MaartenvSmeden) that became very popular quickly because this is a topic of interest to many, and probably also because it’s a great sarcastic take on the available advice, highlighting how advice on how to become a successful academic can be so frustrating because it’s many times at odds with other advice, even from the same source.
In his thread Maarten van Smeden offers lots of food for thought:
1) Be the ultimate collaborator but also don’t be. Say yes to as many collaborations as physically possible: co-produce papers, LEARN, co-write grants, DISCUSS, it is all about synergy. But also, collaborations slow you down, have your own ideas! Just say no to collaborations.
2) Be the methods ninja but also don’t be. Science is only as good as its weakest link: don’t be satisfied by applying the default analyses in the field. But also, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good and don’t confuse reviewers. Just apply the default analyses in the field.
3) Be the superstar teacher but also don’t be. Professor means teacher, it is LITERALLY in the name. Being a good professor means being a superstar teacher. But also, focus on the science and minimize the hours of teaching, don’t try to become a superstar teacher.
4) Be the open science practitioner but also don’t be. A modern scientist is an open scientist. Open up your code, your data and your publications. But also, your code is messy, the data isn’t yours to share and you should save the APC of open publishing to hire new lab members.
5) Be the literature addict but also don’t be. READ YOUR LITERATURE. Be the literature addict and know what is out there to prioritize your own science and become THE EXPERT. But also, there is just too much! Invest time spend on reading in writing your own stuff! DON’T READ.
6) Be the supreme knowledge sponge but also don’t be. Become the best in the world by borrowing knowledge from different scientific disciplines and by working in multidisciplinary teams. But also, be THE SPECIALIST. Focus on your own discipline and team, your CV is begging you.
7) Be the social media rockstar but also don’t be. Outreach! Show you can and will communicate with the public to explain your science. But also, TIME DRAIN! Surely your tenure track committee is not impressed by your 30k SoMe followers half of whom are bots anyway.
8) Be the peer review soldier but also don’t be. Be an active part of the scientific community: be ready for peer review duty. The system will collapse without you! But also, peer review is a waste: everything will be published anyway. Don’t answer the calls for peer review duty.
9) Be the frequent flyer world traveler but also don’t be. You are an internationally oriented researcher: fly as much as you can for talks, collaborations and make sure you participate in ALL the discussions. But also, think about the environment: fly as little as you can.
10) Be the family person but also don’t be. Don’t forget to live while becoming successful: family time should always be the number 1 priority. But also, all of the above should be number 1 priority.