Have confidence in yourself and innovate recklessly


A professor and his son.

By now you have turned in a January preproposal to the National Science Foundation if you are a biology professor in areas of ecology, evolution, or various kinds of physiology. You may feel good about your preproposal, or you may feel bad about it. You might have found other collaborators. You might have tied your work into a big question more effectively. You might have done one more preliminary experiment. You may be exhausted, happy or unhappy. So it is time for a little perspective.

After all, you are a professor, one of the smartest, most creative, hardest working people there are. Potential grad students struggling with how to impress us on their first interview will admire you and dream of attaining your position. So it is time to pause if you are feeling trapped in the preproposal cycle.

Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield had a very interesting op-ed in the New York Times on 20 January on the importance of self-evaluation and changing direction. I wish I could tell you it was a scientific study by an important sociologist, but it is not. It argues by example and is likely to be motivated by the desire for publicity for their new book. But what it says is very interesting. The piece argues that your true hurdle is not overcome by working harder, but by working more creatively, even more recklessly, doing things in unexpected and different ways, whether it be music, cooking, or science.

I would add to that the importance of honing in on what you are really good at, what you truly love to do, then becoming the best possible at that in novel ways. Don’t just do what the others do. Find something novel, important to you. Then stretch your creativity. After all, we probably have the most flexible job in the world. Take that freedom and soar.


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Grant proposals, Managing an academic career and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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