Developing Thick Research Skin?


Quote From Doodles:

I can also think of lots of things I should have said at my viva but didn't so worry that my external examiner who is a nice person doesn't think very much of me despite passing me! They are very on the ball and brought up stuff that I didn't even think/know about so I had to admit that as it wasn't what I would have considered a major point but it was useful to the interpretation of my results.  All I can think about is how to avoid this person in future as I think they think I'm not very clever! It was pointed out to me that they must have thought I was fine as I passed but I can't help feeling this way!  I also over analyse things too much and it does eat you up afterwards as I can always think of things to say afterwards! It just plays on your mind!  Incidentally I'm also awful at networking and I've given up as the few times I've tried it I have messed it up so have given up on trying to find a job that way!

I really think the trick to networking is to be genuine and honest. I've seen networking done so badly. I'm trying to see it as a way of just finding out about people and making contacts with those who have similar interests to me, but are using those interests in different ways and on different projects which are good to find out more about. If I try to see it as having some kind of outcome, I just freeze. The overanalysis is awful for me, even if something is 95% good I will obsess over the 5% bad until I forget about everything else. If something is 60% good, forget it... I try to take ownership of my mistakes to such an obsessive degree that it's hard to be proud of the good things if I've done something wrong. I doubt your examiner thought you were stupid at all -- you passed! -- and were just pointing out something for your own information, that might help you in the future. Most people have good intentions, though it's easy to forget that in academia! It's very important to remember which academics are genuinely nice people, that's a strength we shouldn't let go of. I'm guilty of that and I get myself in a similar situation, that if someone points out something I didn't know I might feel incredibly stupid and want to avoid them for ages afterwards. Here's a suggestion -- actually read up about X and the next time you see your examiner you could go up to them and start talking about it. "Hi, how are you? I thought a lot about what you suggested in my viva. I've read those papers, and I think that... etc... what do you think?" That way you can turn it into a strength and actually impress them rather than be afraid of it. Like I said, I think it's really important that we consciously remember those in our field who are actually really lovely people. It's so easy to forget that when we feel threatened by all of these big, famous*, scary academics.

(*because we cited their paper in our literature review, that makes them famous, right?)


I don't think the nonsense of inappropriate, ill-informed, rude and irrelevant responses to your work ever goes away. That is why I say the best thing you can do for yourself over time is to learn to sort out the chaff from the wheat. Take on board those things that have some value--and disregard the others.

Just this past week, I had to sort out these sorts of comments, being told the theoretical basis for my research was "strange" ( never mind that its mainstream, used apparently without being deeply problematic for academics in Oxbridge, etc....) and it sort of went down hill from there--turns out the person was trying to make comments having not even read the whole of the paper...! so I just politely guided them to the unread sections, saying, you might want these on board perhaps to think about as well....and tried not to giggle at them, because it was all so absurd. The tables turned rather nicely, and the person had to retreat, perhaps feeling a bit foolish. It never goes away--the silly comments that is.

I find it helps to not get angry. At any level. In my life before the PHD, the place I worked sent us on a customer service course, as we dealt from time to time with the public. We learned a very simple formula to handle upset people, that worked every time. It also works very well for dealing with these silly comments....

The formula is LAST--Listen, Ask, Solve, Thank. You listen to what the person has to say, ask what you can do for them ( OK this part may have little relevance for academia, but you could at least ask a clarifying question or something to tie thier comment into something sensible), Solve, ( again for academia, this might just be something like, Oh, yes, I must look into this further, how fascinating.) and Thank, ( Thank you for that comment, that gives me some new things to think about--or something along those lines).

It takes the stinger out of their words and attitude, and normally the person is caught so flat footed by a non hostile or defensive response that they just give up being hateful. Its never not worked! Either in the workplace or in a conference setting.

I had a comment from someone, "Well, there are obvious limitations to your theoretical base."

Me: ( cue big smile) "Well, of course there are. All theoretical bases will have limitations. I think its important to remember that, and I think its great you brought that up!"

Person fumed, mumbled and said no more.



======= Date Modified 29 May 2011 14:16:44 =======
OK at the risk of running on a bit....:$

A few years after the bathroom attack woman event, I was attending ( but not presenting) at another conference. The bathroom attack woman and her colleagues were presenting at a panel. I nearly turned on my heel and left the room, because that whole event came flooding back and I remembered how awful she made me feel. But I stayed. I listened to the presentation....which was just as ill informed as the basis of her bathroom attack.

I asked a question, how did their position square with the comments that had been put out by [name of large international organisation] on the topic a few months prior? Blank stares and mumbling--(their position was completely opposite to the large international organisation comments...:p) and they finally had to admit they were not aware of these comments ( major gaffe, anyone researching in the area would have/should have been aware...)

A little later on, I asked another question--what was their reaction to very important human rights court decision on this topic...again, they did not know and it was a major gaffe, anyone keeping up with the research in the past 12 months could not have NOT known of this case--it was everywhere...)

OK, perhaps a bit inappropriate on my part....and normally I would not do that..but I remembered the trauma of the bathroom attack....I tried to be professional in my tone and my questions...

heheheh--perhaps academics should heed the advise of Mr T and his Rules for Fools on public speaking!!!


I came here in some state of distress because I just had an experience where I was told to "cut it short" in the middle of saying something I felt strongly about. I had a bit of inner crisis and felt (as someone else has described) "sick to the stomach". I generally have prayers saved on my phone to look at as reminders in times of distress. And I was desperately searching for a particular prayer when I happened upon something else, by the will of Allah, that cooled the fire in my chest. It is reported on proper authority that the Prophet (s) said "Strive for that which will benefit you, seek the help of Allah, and do not be weak (or defeated). If anything befalls you, do not say, "if only I had done such and such" rather say "Allah has decreed and whatever he wills, He does"
I took away the following from this and I felt myself increase in wisdom by the will of Allah.
1. Only pursue what will benefit you. If knowledge gained is beneficial, then the small defeats and crises in seeking that are to be taken in one's stride. If knowledge is not beneficial, not even another second should be spend acquiring it.
2. Do not get into "what if" thinking (this was big because I was going over the event again and again in my mind). Rather, accept it as something Allah has willed (or was "meant to happen" for those prefer secular language)
3. Seek the help of Allah, do not feel like you are alone.

I thank Allah for this forum and you all for your openness. I have benefited from this forum and from the various replies people have posted. I do agree that academics feel compulsions to say thing and I sometimes find, to my dismay, that I myself am beginning to become like that having now spent 3 years in a PhD. I hope I have the strength to resist this habit. It's kind of like when I was a child and my parents would do something I disliked, I would make a promise to myself to never do that when I became a parent. Now I have a son, I have forgotten all of those promises! Yikes!