Ask Us Anything: what if your advisor has conflicts with other senior people in your field?

A while back we invited you to ask us anything. Here are our answers to our next question, from an anonymous commenter: What do you do if your advisor has ongoing conflicts with other senior people in your field? Conflicts that you worry might limit your postdoctoral opportunities, and result in overly-negative reviews of papers co-authored with your advisor.

Brian: This happens. There are people with that kind of demeanor and reputation out there. And they do have graduate students. I guess my thoughts are:

  1. Its more of a mixed bag than you think. If your adviser is in that much conflict, it probably means that they are at least a “big name” and that has lots of benefits to you even if people don’t personally like that “big name”. You will be exposed to many opportunities and many will by default assume you know how to do good science. You may get some harsher reviews but you might also get reviewed at a higher journal than you otherwise might (not defending that last fact, just acknowledging it’s true).
  2. In most of these situations 5-10% are in active conflict with the person and the rest may be in more of a stay away mode. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a situation where half (or even a third) of the field was actively gunning for a person
  3. The vast majority of people (except maybe those 5-10%) are smart enough to separate your adviser from you. Really if you are a kind thoughtful person who does good science, there may be more drama and more whiplash as the advantages and disadvantages buffet you. But in the end academia is a small world and people will not judge your personality by your advisers. There may even be some people who feel sorry for you and or want to “win over” so and so’s academic offspring. But mostly trust me they will see you as your own person in terms of postdoc applications etc. This applies less for papers, as your adviser’s name is on the paper. So in this one area I would say revert more to advice #1.

Just put yourself out there, get yourself known, do good science and it will work out. I say that having watched this dynamic several times.

Jeremy: I don’t have any personal experience with this, but I agree with what Brian said.

Related: this old post on whether involvement in a scientific controversy will help or hurt your scientific career.

2 thoughts on “Ask Us Anything: what if your advisor has conflicts with other senior people in your field?

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