I frequently observe potential clinician academics ruining their prospects through very simple actions. From these observations, here are my top 10 tips on How to ruin your research career.
Tip 1: Get yourself black-listed. Getting black-listed in research is bad. Really bad. The world of research is full of capable people, so no one will touch those on the black list. Also, the black list is collective (the word gets around quickly) and it tends to be permanent (once you’ve been deemed unworthy it’s very hard to change that perception) which makes it a very effective way to destroy your career for good. Getting yourself black listed early on (ideally pre-PhD) is particularly effective. For details on how to get black-listed, read on.
Tip 2: If a high-hitting senior colleague makes an introduction for you (i.e. goes out of their way to connect you with someone), ignore it. Senior academics are usually selective with their introductions and not following things up sends a strong signal that you are a time-waster without a real committment. Often it also conveys that you are not smart enough to grasp opportunities. Since committment and intelligence are key requirements for an academic career, demonstraiting early on that you don’t have these qualities is a very effective way to get black-listed.
Tip 3: Act in ways that embarrases those who are associated with you. One good way to do this is by not following up on introductions (see Tip 2) – it makes your seniors look bad for having made an error of judgement in recommending you. For other good ways, see Tips 5-9.
Tip 4: Avoid good leadership behaviours. Make sure you never apply them. Good leadership behaviours are scarce; if you go around demonstrating them you are seriously risking getting yourself a career.
Tip 5: If someone offers you an opportunity to engage in research (e.g. do some data collection, write a paper, or co-author a presentation) accept it, and then prioritise all your other work above it, and never complete the agreed tasks. If you mess up an opportunity in a spectacular way then people usually won’t offer you a second chance.
Tip 6: Have tantrums. About anything. Always keep your pet grind/chip at hand so you can revvy yourself up and chuck that dummy at someone. Having tantrums is also an excellent anti-leadership behaviour; if you think someone has mistaken you a leader then just have a tantrum or two. It’s usually enough to kill any illusions.
Tip 7: Combine your tantrums with unreasonable demands. It makes it clear to others that you are not just having a bad day but your tantrums are firmly underpinned by a lack of sound judgement.
Tip 8: Have a strong sense of entitlement. Sneer at your colleagues at all levels. Focus on your own excellence, and try hard not to show appreciation of the work, ideas, and expertise of others. This helps to stop any potential collaborations that could benefit you and your career, and makes sure no one will want to promote you.
Tip 9: Avoid collaborations with people who are better than you. Such collaborations challenge you to do better, and put you at risk of learning. In the worst case scenario, you could actually learn loads and become very very good. And that is one of the most sure ways to develop a clinical academic career. Avoid continous self-improvement at all cost, the risk is simply too great.
Tip 10: Lie and manipulate. Offer up your peers for roasting to save your own skin. I should say that this is not a very effective strategy in a short term, but often works very effectively in a long-term. Over time you nicely collect a good army of people who patiently wait, and then one day collectively throw your career in fire.
Ps. If you are one those people who actually wants a clinician academic career and is interested in more constructive tips, I’ll give five good tips that should help you to stay away from the ten traps above:
1: Follow up and make good use of the opportunities that colleagues (senior, peer, or junior) offer you. If you can’t or don’t want to engage then be honest and brave, and say so straight away to save everyone’s time and effort.
2: Seek to promote your team more than you promote yourself. Generosity is a good leadership behaviour and an attractive collaborator trait, and is likely to come back to help you when you least expect it but most need it. If you can’t, or don’t want to share something, be open and honest about it and about your reasons (it is ok not to share everything!)
3: Manage your emotions. Research can be emotionally hard and very stressful. Being a clinician academic can feel like being in a pressure cooker with a dose of daily insults being thrown in (usually by clinicians who have implemented the 10 destructive actions above and are now venting their anger over the inevitable outcome). None of this is right; but it’s your resposibility to seek support (incl. professional mental health support) to manage your situation and your emotions. If you find yourself angry, upset, or otherwise dragging a massive chip around… talk to someone. It’s not a weakness to seek support – it’s the sensible thing to do. I do it, and so do many others.
4: Have a strategy. If you are not sure what this means, or how to get a strategy, see tip 3 above (seek support). Having a strategy is like the seeking support – it’s not some dirty secret to feel apologetic about, it’s just a key sensible behaviour that helps you to get where you want to go.
5: Seek to work and collaborate with people who are at least as good, but ideally better, than you. Collaborations that challenge you are crucial for your development and for the development of your science. [The IP for this tip belongs to Prof Marie Johnston]