There’s a professor here that has been around for a couple decades. She’s not so much a mentor as more of a friend since she doesn’t work in anything close to me, but we’re very similar even considering the age difference. We will discuss the occasional work topic, but overall she’s just a great person to be around. We don’t have overlapping specialties, but we do have overlapping equipment. She lets my students come by and use it, and I return the favor (though far more infrequently). We go out for lunch and coffee, which is very pleasant considering the professorial life is an often-lonely one. But alas, she has accepted an offer at a much better program. One that has better collaborators, and one that definitely has better students. [Side bar: it’s not that our students are bad, but there are some schools that have incredibly strict standards for admitting students. Our’s isn’t the loosest, but it’s not the tightest so as a PI, we have to be incredibly picky about the students. But there come times when the project deadlines are tight that had to take who we can. End sidebar.] So we had a pleasant lunch where she confided this information in me and actually gave me advice for the first time since we met. She said ‘be nice’. I’m a pretty nice person, and very careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings. The majority of ‘big players’ in my field are relatively straight-forward, though if they were women, they would be called mean. The advice about being nice goes against everything I’ve seen that it takes to be successful. But those two simple words will definitely stick with me, as I strive to be someone as outwardly care-free and successful as she is. I really wish her the best of luck. If only being nice meant I didn’t have to buy new equipment to replace the stuff she’s taking with her.
2 thoughts on “Really nice colleague”
“The advice about being nice goes against everything I’ve seen that it takes to be successful.”
Maybe for a man? Women have to play by different rules on the way to success. Cannot be mean and unlikable. Cannot even be blunt most of the time. Perpetual dispensation of smiles and softeners is required.
Our current department chair is one such individual, a supremely nice and kind, also supremely politically savvy and successful woman. To be like her, to have that level of patience with people’s douchebaggery I’d likely have to be on some drugs. Because I am nice and kind, until someone steps on my toes. I speak up when upset and that is the ultimate deviation from expected female behavior — you’re supposed to just absorb other people’s shit with a smile, and I do not and will not.
I’m making my peace with the fact that my success might be limited by my short fuse. But I do good work, complicated and creative, and am a great teacher. I think that’s enough.
I was told by an early mentor that the smartest people in the world, without political skills, will be more hampered than the dumbest people in the world with political skills. But if you combine intelligence and politics you become unstoppable. I wish that success could only be being good at what you do, and I’ve had to work for a decade on lengthening my fuse. Or at least delivering the smile when I get angry….like a psychopath….