• Early career faculty member with perfect academic pedigree and several strong first-authored publications.
  • Currently at mid-point of second year on tenure track.
  • Rushed resubmission of career development grant.
  • Did not incorporate advice and or use available resources like internal study section or mentor review to optimize the application.
  • Second submission of NIH career development proposal received an unfundable score.

Elements of the conversation:

  • The reviewers in this study section just weren’t helpful and were totally inconsistent with themselves.
  • No one else would have even tried to pull this off. People just don’t understand the science.
  • [Jane Doe] didn’t pull her weight with the stats; we probably should have used neural net modeling.
  • Being on clinical service was a huge distraction. There’s just not enough time.


  • As hard as I’ve trained, it’s not fair to be killing myself this way. It’s not like I can put more into this.
  • Academics has become a pointless grind chasing impact factors, pleasing reviewers, trying to guess what’s trendy, and contorting my research to try to fit someone else’s ideas of what’s important.
  • I’m not going to play this game anymore.

It’s appropriate to empathize with this situation. And venting is fine. Yet, the literature on locus of control, suggests the next thing to do is to make the bitter inventory of how we might have contributed to the undesired outcome. This means moving our thoughts and ruminations from things “out there” to things we control. Own it, regroup, and press on.

We all have blind spots; and none are larger than those related to how we think about and what we think about ourselves. Enter 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do. Push past the fact that the title sounds macho and like it may be blaming people. In 13 Things, Amy Morin provides an inventory of patterns we need to give up in order to succeed. I’m using the pirate code to pass them along because you will want the book.

Those who will succeed don’t:

  1. Waste Time Feeling Sorry for Themselves
  2. Give Away Their Power
  3. Shy Away from Change
  4. Focus on Things They Can’t Control
  5. Worry about Pleasing Everyone
  6. Fear Taking Calculated Risks
  7. Dwell on the Past
  8. Make the Same Mistakes Over and Over
  9. Resent Other People’s Success
  10. Give Up after the First Failure
  11. Fear Alone Time
  12. Feel the World Owes Them Anything
  13. Expect Immediate Results

The regroup: 

I can make a recovery but will need to:

  • Accept that I’m more energized by my new work and figure out a way to feature different science in the next application.
  • Make and stick with a timeline, including time for revisions and internal review, for the next round.
  • Sit down with more senior folks to decipher the heart of the reviewers concerns so I don’t go there again.
  • Be more candid with my stats collaborator and learn more about our analysis options.
  • Consider an editor and some scientific illustration help to make the product extremely polished.
  • Get proactive about swapping in-patient service demands around grant deadlines with friends who aren’t researchers.

You may be tempted to gift this book to a whiny office mate, a challenging mentee, or a teenager you live with. Don’t! First read it and have the conversation with yourself about what self-talk, emotional hot buttons, and coping behaviors you lean on that may unintentionally undermine your success. (Also consider how you may be modeling external locus of control for those around you.) Most of us have room to work on our ability to analyze strengths and weaknesses, seek and use pointed critique, and reject excuses. When we do, new resilience and resolve will follow.

* Mash up of experiences. Does not represent a specific individual or a common event at our institution.


Locus of control in relation to objective and subjective career success.

Psychological empowerment as a criterion for adjustment to a new job

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