Monday, October 28, 2013

Full Circle

A few years ago I wrote a post entitled Chalk Dust about an experience that I had with some former university students of mine. Basically they constantly moaned and complained about why I pushed them so hard until I was not there to push, and then they found out that their own approaches were much less successful. Today's post is another in that same vein. It began back in 2008. A graduate student who was working on an experiment at my lab for his Ph.D. was in a bit of a professional and personal jam. His faculty research advisor had died after a battle with cancer. Ultimately, I agreed to take over as his advisor.

With less than a year left before he completed his degree work, he began to apply for jobs. Usually in my field, a recent Ph.D. will seek out a temporary term position where they can begin to develop their own research program and get some "real world" experience before they begin to look for a permanent position. As my student had labored long and hard along the path to completing his Ph.D., he began to experience burn out toward the end. This is very typical among students. As such he was more than eager to move on to new challenges, even if that meant not crossing every "t" and dotting every "i" in his graduate student career. What it came down to is that as soon as he started his new position, he lost any and all motivation to complete the work necessary to bring his thesis work through to publication.

Today my former student has been applying for permanent positions for more than a year without so much as a nibble. The main feedback that he has heard as to why he is not getting interviews, is that his publication list is not sufficiently developed. He stopped by my office the other day to say hello as he was in town for a meeting. He immediately stated that he sure wished that he had heeded my advice about publishing his thesis work. He heard me time and again tell him how important and necessary this step was for his career. For whatever reasons he just never managed to get the work done and is now paying for his decision.

I think many of us can relate to this story. We get wise advice from someone who knows what they are talking about and we think we know better or can succeed doing things our own way. It's one thing to get bad advice and set it aside after careful consideration. It's another when we get sound advice and don't act on it even though we have the opportunity and the ability. In such cases we can pay a steep price.