I’m scared to talk about my job at Harvard because of imposter syndrome. But I know from experience that writing here and talking about myself incessantly is the way to beat it.
If I post about things that make me nervous, then the people who are going to call me out will do it right in the comments sections. You know that adage keep your enemies close to you? It’s sort of like that.
It’s also like when I got a job writing a weekly finance column — my brothers told me I shouldn’t even take the job, because people will find out that I cashed out my 401(k) to pay for childcare, and I’ll get fired so fast it wouldn’t even be worth the trouble to start. I took the job and wrote my first column about that. And I never worried again that people would think I’m financially incompetent.
Just kidding. I know I’m financially incompetent. And I worry all the time that I look reckless trying something totally new when I am too old to be messing with income. Because I am reckless.
What no one tells you about Harvard
I’m in a lab run by a professor who is the best manager I’ve ever worked under. I want to put her name here, but shockingly, not everyone thinks it’s an honor have their name on my blog. She is amazing at motivating and inspiring people to do the work she wants to do. And she’s organized. She published an incredible number of papers while she had kids and I’m always asking questions that are too personal to figure out how she manages her life. I wonder if anyone has written their dissertation on their advisor’s life skills?
Perks of being on the bottom rung
Being an expert in your field makes it really difficult to ask hard questions that generate new insights. In a new career everything is a surprise.
For example, in a conversation about whose name is going on a paper, I asked, “How are you deciding which order?” The answer was that one person is outside the country and can’t be paid, so his name will go first and the person getting paid will go second, and the person who is most important goes last.
I’m not even sure if that’s right. It’s like trying to speak another language you don’t really speak, where you nod continuously and wish for understanding.
Blogs are still the best resource to learn a new industry
Even though very few people still keep a blog, the ones still left standing really really know their topic. PhD Comics is a primer on academic claustrophobia. Tyler Cowen’s blog is a masterclass on disrupting academia. My blog is a cautionary tale about the insane hubris it takes to switch to academia after basically building a career on berating people about being in academia.
ChatGPT is an important tool for entry level work
At the bottom of the ladder you know nothing, so in many cases, ChatGPT can do your job better than you can. This is not cheating, this is a service to the people above you so they don’t have to slog through your reams of entry-level crap.
Six months ago there was no grant proposal that ChatGPT couldn’t write. But as I got smarter at knowing how to add nuance, ChatGPT got dumber about where to find information. Or maybe ChatGPT has imposter syndrome too, but is less willing to tell you when it doesn’t know something?
On the other hand ChatGPT is happy to tell you when it doesn’t want to tell you things. Ask for information about women in the workplace. ChatGPT pleads ignorance — somehow women working has been relegated to the same off-limits category as building bombs.
I told my mom I used ChatGPT to write a conference proposal. She’d already honed in on all the downsides of my draft, so I know I was egging her on. But I thought it would be a challenge to her to have negativity in an area where she knows nothing.
She was up for the challenge. My mom can finish the Sunday NYT crossword before she finishes her pint of ice cream. She saves the acrostic as a treat. She gave me the ChatGPT version of “you’re gonna get get fired.”
Learn which rules are sacred
To her point, I’ve been fired a lot. But typically I get fired for being a self-starter in things that shouldn’t start. Academics usually get fired for stealing or lying, which is not really my thing. Still, I read DataColada prophylactical
I found the blog because Francesca Gino, who I’ve quoted here, just got fired from Harvard’s Business School, and the guys at DataColada wrote a four-part series about how she lied about her results. You can read that starting here in DataFalsificada Part 1: Clusterfake. I wish I were having another child so I could have these people come up with a name.
At the beginning of your career a mentor matters the most
My mom does not joke about having kids because she got fired from a job she loved, so she got pregnant with me.
Then right away she got another job, and then she was upset that she was pregnant, and on top of that when they realized she was pregnant they fired her. She tells me it was okay the second time she got fired, because she got another job and her boss liked her so much that that they let her work from home. In 1966.
Me: “How did you work at home with a newborn?!”
Mom: “I wanted to have my own money. You know my family never had money. I didn’t want to live like that.”
I asked ChatGPT what Penelope Trunk should write about her mom. It spit back: Life is short, and time with our loved ones is precious.
See? I told you ChatGPT is getting dumb.
Changing careers is like relocating your home. The scenery is different but you’re still the same inside. I always want to know how women manage their careers and their kids. And I always ask questions that put me a little too close to trouble.