Today, The Chronicle. Tomorrow, The World! A Scientist's Guide to Academic Etiquette by Female Science Professor

I was just going through my unread Twitter stream from yesterday and found a link to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled, "A Scientist's Guide to Academic Etiquette," with a tagline about scientists lacking in social skills.

Recognizing the truth in that statement, I fired up the post to the very pleasant surprise of learning that the author is none other than the Grande Dame of the science blogging community, Female Science Professor.

Female Science Professor is the pseudonym of a professor in the physical sciences at a large research university who blogs under that moniker and writes monthly for our Catalyst column. Her blog is

An aside: I really like the term moniker instead of the pejorative pseudonym or the pompous nom de plume or, worse, nom de blog.

Oh, wait - what's that in my profile? Nom de plume?

So, one might think that FSP's first point would be not to be a pompous ass. Well, not exactly, although several points cover that ground.

Here's a little background:

In the years that I have been blogging, I have written about some of the situations in which we academics are impolite to each other, and offered suggestions for how we might get along better. I started numbering the examples, at first with randomly assigned, absurdly high numbers, as if they were items in a long nonexistent document called "FSP's Guide to Academic Etiquette." Eventually I collected all of those scenarios together and gave them real numbers. I hereby share my existing list, with the addition of some new items.

A cursory glance shows that this is by no means a comprehensive list of all the things one might want or need to know to navigate the academic world. Furthermore, some of these tips are more useful than others, some are more serious than others, and more than a few focus on the extremes of academic behavior. All of them are based on actual experiences.

A couple of my favorites:

24. For advisers: Don't assume that a student or postdoc lacks ambition just because they don't want to be a professor at a big research university.

10. For students and postdocs: If you are paid a salary, you should do the work.

21. For people introducing a speaker: Before the talk, ask speakers if they have a preference about what is said during their introduction. Some people won't, but some may have preferences about what to mention (dates, places, awards, crimes).

There are only 16 comments so far but I strongly expect that to grow.

I need to think of a few. This could be fun:

For students and colleagues: If you interrupt me during my increasingly infrequent time in the lab to ask for advice about a method, don't then challenge or criticize me on my suggestion. Look it up your own damn self. Similarly, don't ask the question of a female lab member, smirk, and then turn to a male lab member and say, "Yeah, you wouldn't do it that way, would you?"

For interviewers and colleagues: If you went to an Ivy League or other school you think is better than ours, you needn't preface statements with, "when I was at BigBlatheryU. . ." Extra points deducted if you actually didn't earn a degree there but still have to say you "were there." Your insecurity will show and your colleagues will make up drinking games about how often or how early in a discussion you bring up the topic.

For students and postdocs: If someone in the lab is having more success than you, don't sabotage their work by spiking all of their stock solutions with EDTA. Yes, this has happened.

For trainees: Pay more attention to your own work and less time complaining to/about others. That "slimy bastard postdoc" might very soon end up to be your NIH SRO (scientific review officer) or PO (program officer).

For all: Your field is actually a very small world. People talk.
As they say at McSorley's: Be good or be gone.

Do you have any of your own suggestions?

Read "A Scientist's Guide to Academic Etiquette" here.


More like this

To professors:
(1) Just because you don't know, it doesn't mean that the problem doesn't exist.
(2) Even if you sincerely believe in its non-existence, there are better ways how to tell the interested students than 'You shouldn't waste time with that crap', or at least not in front of a full classroom.
(3) If you still do it, then, after someone presents at least halfway decent paper on the problem in whose existence you hadn't believed openly and depreciatingly, kindly keep a low profile and refrain from exclaiming Oh but that's self-evident, it's been known for years and I myself dabbled in that many years ago.

To whoever decides what is a publication: I hear in other universities, textbooks are considered publications, too. Not in ours; disputable but I can live with it, at least I've published real pretty books with wide readership unlike many of the faculty. I would however prefer if the decision was mouthed in other words than 'you should do some real, serious work'.

To students:
(1) Complaining that I don't deserve that cool and sexy scholarship for some interdisciplinary thingy, giving the argument that I'm arrogant because I haven't gone for a beer with you once, and that I'm a damn nerd who messes with useless crap outside our primary field of study makes a fool of you, not me.
(2) I may know a few languages but that doesn't mean that I will translate 150 pages for you overnight for a box of candies. Whining that we're fellow students won't help you, sorry, and spreading the word about my greed won't help either.


I ordered that very round for me and Brother Orac during our McSorley's visit in summer 2006, a month after I joined ScienceBlogs. Orac looked at me sideways when I made the order but most folks don't realize they're only half-pints.

@Liisa: I remember when the first PCR paper came out and some of my profs pooh-poohed it saying that anyone could've thought of that.