Monday, May 22, 2017

Self-confidence

At the risk of repeating myself, I commend to you Lisa Jarvis' excellent long feature article in Chemical and Engineering News on the 1st year of assistant professors Julia Kalow, Valerie Schmidt and Song Lin. I especially enjoyed this little section from Sunday's installment: 
Another roadblock for new researchers is self-confidence. The interview process, when you’re asked to stand in front of leaders in your field and give a talk outlining the projects you’d like to tackle in your lab, can leave some feeling a bit bruised. You might have gotten a job, but for some, those biting comments remain in their ear, feeding doubts about the merits of their proposals. 
UCLA’s Nelson felt like he was adrift scientifically during his first year. Still stung by criticism that some of his ideas elicited on the job-talk circuit, Nelson lost some trust in his own instincts in the lab. The feedback even made him abandon one particular project altogether. “Scientist Hosea would have just done what I love. But in the context of this job, your mind runs wild and you start doing other stuff,” he says. 
After not feeling happy about how research went his first year, he decided to go back to that project. Six months in, it was working splendidly. So much so that in March it yielded his group’s first publication—in Science. 
Schmidt also felt a bit battered after the job-search process. “It was tough to have people talk about your science and say, ‘Oh, that’s not going to work,’ ” she says. Her strategy has been to work extra hard to get to the paper that shows the harshest critics that she was right after all.
I gotta say, it's very hard for me not to take criticism personally, even as (over the years), I've developed the ability to have a thick skin, or at least a short-ish memory. I imagine that ability to not have one's self-confidence completely broken (while drawing lessons from criticism) is something that distinguishes the very successful from the less-so.  

7 comments:

  1. Self-confidence is overrated, and introspection is underrated.

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    1. Check out this TV commercial.
      http://www.values.com/inspirational-stories-tv-spots/99-the-greatest

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    2. I can't be the only one who thinks those "values.com" billboards are incredibly creepy. Some anonymous billionaire is just putting them up everywhere for no reason, trying to tell everybody what to do: it makes me feel powerless.

      There's a "Grit featuring John Wayne" billboard by where I live, and every time I drive by it I start singing the old punk song "John Wayne was a Nazi". Because he kinda was.

      If we're so free, why is Big Brother putting this crap everywhere?




      Delete
    3. I think those values.com billboards are incredibly creepy. Some anonymous billionaire is putting them up everywhere, trying to tell everybody what to do: it makes me feel a bit less free, like Big Brother is out there. I've got one of those "Grit featuring John Wayne" billboards by where I live, and every time I drive by it I start singing that old punk song "John Wayne was a Nazi".

      Because who thinks this is the best use of their money? And why? Vaguely oppressive. I don't like old movies about Indians and Mexicans being shot? Well, then I must be a 'libtard' with no grit.

      Delete
  2. I think that the most underrated thing is awareness. Be aware that some of your critics are just talking out of their asses, and also be aware that sometimes your ideas suck. I think that self-confidence arises from realizing that no, I am probably not dramatically worse than everyone else interviewing, and, similarly, the established professor interviewers are not magically more intelligent than me, either.

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  3. It's important to remember that the job offer was extended because the faculty endorse your potential as a researcher, and that stinging comments in interviews can sometimes be more about testing a candidate's attitude and resilience than criticizing the researcher him/herself.

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  4. Conventional wisdom is that the key to handling criticism is to "de-personalize." But, it's hard for me not to think that science is a creative pursuit and like other creative pursuits, in some way you are putting part of yourself into your work. Instead of say, writing a song about a personal subject, you're staking a different claim - I made these measurements and I believe they mean "X." Even if there is no disagreement on how the measurements were made, there is almost certainly going to be disagreement as to what the results mean. And when you put in hours and months and years in research and interpreting the results in whatever framework you interpret them in - how easy is it going to be to de-personalize criticisms of your interpretations and conclusions?

    Of course, I'm not saying that we should not do this, to learn to handle criticism, but I think that the nature of the work makes it harder to do so and that's worth keeping in mind. Certainly, I have not always handled criticism well, but when I see others not handle it well and what the outcome of that is, it reminds me of why it is important to keep trying to get something useful from criticism when possible. We all have blind spots and weaknesses.

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