I am currently looking for postdoc positions, an experience which is equally exciting and harrowing. During my PhD I have acquired all these diverse and useful skills: a scientific mindset, analysis techniques, writing, public engagement, teaching and whatnot. To showcase all this, I now need a whole new skillset: writing both funding and job applications, customizing CVs and personal letters and acing interviews. So in addition to doing research on the net, I went to my network to ask for help. I put a post on FB asking for someone to proofread my text. In less than a day I had at least five people offering to help out. People took time to read and review, and gave feedback. When it came to the interview, I was recommended contacting a person I don’t even know.* I sent him an email as a shot in the dark, and lo and behold, he replied and took time out of his weekend to advise me over Skype.
I would like to think that this extraordinarily helpful behaviour, sacrificing your precious time to help someone without really gaining anything yourself, is part of the academic culture. In academia, we enjoy sharing our knowledge and also when others build upon our work. When you contact someone asking for information on a method they published, or if they could perhaps share some material, they usually not only say yes, but offer lots of advice on how to make it work. This has definitely been the case for me, both when asking and when being asked. The same behaviour is the foundation of the whole peer-review process; without being paid for the work, people take time to carefully review other people’s work, checking it carefully, sometimes annoyingly so and sometimes again and again. I think this is also the foundation of many academic collaborations; you contact someone with an idea and they almost always say “Yes, let’s go for it!” and pitch in time, resources and ideas. In collaborations, you hopefully get your name on a paper in the end, but it starts out in the same culture of being helpful.
A study published in PLOS 2014 by Tsekova and Macy investigates why people help strangers when there is a low probability that help will be directly reciprocated or socially rewarded. Their results show that receiving help can increase the willingness to be generous towards others. It is an interesting read, I just might do a blog post on it later. For now, you can read it here.
It is strange and heartening, that in this competitive field that is academic research – where you publish or perish – we also have this culture of readily helping out. So, don’t be afraid to ask; people are surprisingly helpful.
In the line with that, and as a thank you for all the help I have received through my PhD and in the process of job seeking, I pledge to pay it forward. Contact me and I’ll do my best to help you out! I am going to start off with this piece of advice: KI Career Service has excellent workshops, for instance to help you with writing applications, so get involved!