I thought I'd share some pieces of writing that I keep going back to.

1. I've always admired Dr. Jean Yang's writing and research. I came across her blog when I became interested in pursuing a PhD. Despite our research areas being different, she immensely impacted my taste for research problems. Furthermore, reading her thoughts about writing led me to develop a genuine interest in improving my writing skills. But, among all of her posts, her famous take on the importance of perseverance, titled "The Genius Fallacy," is my favorite! I probably read the below paragraph at least a hundred times -- so masterfully written!

'What I have learned is that discipline and the ability to persevere are equally, if not more, important to success than being able to look like a smart person in meetings. All of the superstars I've known have worked harder--and often faced more obstacles, in part due to the high volume of work--than other people, despite how much it might look like they are flying from one brilliant result to another from the outside. Because of this, I now want students who accept that life is hard and that they are going to fail. I want students who accept that sometimes work is going to feel like it's going to nowhere, to the point that they wish they were catastrophically failing instead because then at least something would be happening. While confidence might signal resilience and a formidable intellect might decrease the number of obstacles, the main differentiator between a star and simply a smart person is the ability to keep showing up when things do not go well.'

2. I'm also a big fan of Dr. Phil Agre's work. "Networking on the Network: A Guide to Professional Skills for PhD Students," a collection of his advice for PhD students, is a real gem. I re-visit it when I feel sad, frustrated, or angry at something, but want to forge on. My favorite part is about the importance of having positive beliefs -- copy-pasted below. (Note: When I shared the below paragraphs, a colleague told me they felt that Dr. Agre was ignoring the many barriers scholars from underrepresented groups face. I respectfully disagreed. I think Dr. Agre was acknowledging that life is inherently unfair, but at the same time, it's up to you what you'll do with it -- striving to create changes or just despairing.)

'Meanwhile, other students (and faculty with stalled careers) who have screwed up in similar ways will be feeding them negative ideas: the game is fixed, it's all about power, you can't win, everyone is competitive, the whole culture is based on tearing other people down, and to survive you have to join the culture or drop out. Those negative beliefs will always have some slight basis in truth: if you go around looking for confirming evidence, you will certainly be able to find it. But you can find confirming evidence for any belief. The fact is, the people who are trying to sell you such negative beliefs are dangerous. Their end in life is to justify themselves, and to that end they want to recruit you. You should hand them a copy of "Networking on the Network", and then you should walk away from them until they get some better beliefs.

What exactly is wrong with the people who hold these negative beliefs? These hazardous people contend, falsely, that the social structures around them are static, and that they themselves are isolated. They believe themselves to be powerless, and because they haven't the faintest idea how power works, they honestly cannot imagine what it would be like to get any power for themselves. Is it their fault? Partly yes, partly no. It doesn't matter. What matters is getting and teaching a more positive view. The fact is, every one of the current power-holders of your field acquired their power through the methods that I have been describing. They built networks, articulated emerging themes, organized events, and founded institutions. Your job is not to attack them, but to build networks of your own. Occupy the new ground that is opening up, and when they retire your network can inherit the world, assuming that you even want it.

Building a rewarding career, then, requires positive beliefs. Along the way, I have described some of the positive beliefs that are necessary in order to approach networking in the most productive and ethical way. These include the idea that networking will pay off somehow in the future, even if the exact mechanism is not yet clear. In the remainder of this section I want to talk about what I mean by "beliefs", and I want to describe some of the other beliefs I think you should have.

When I talk about "beliefs", I'm not talking about the intellectual theories you have in your conscious mind, or anything that you reason about at a clinical distance or write papers about with fifty-cent words. Rather, I'm talking about your fundamental, deep-down way of relating to the world. For example, if you believe -- if you take for granted, if you assume, if you presuppose -- that the whole universe is fundamentally bad, and that people are fundamentally corrupt, then I want you to stay away from me, because I submit that you are unable to approach anything in a positive spirit. You expect that everyone is going to shaft you, and so you are going to give up, or act ironic, or treat everything as a meaningless conspiracy, or go around preemptively shafting everyone else.

I want you to give up those sorts of negative beliefs. Instead, I want you to adopt some positive beliefs. [...]'

04/14/2024 (edited on 04/15/2024)

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