This Fighty Squirrel recently had occasion to talk to a small group of spunky professionals who knew nothing of science and academics. These folks had the task of stepping into a pile of data, getting up to speed, making a quick and informed recommendation then moving on in the world.

The first thing I did was tell them about myself. “Here are my titles, the institutions I’m affiliated with, the benefits I get from each affiliation and my requirements to participate. But they don’t pay my salary. I do that on my own.”

They looked at each other like this:


My description of how I put together paying myself is pretty standard for soft money academic squirrels. We grab up titles, affiliations, and appointments like they mean something. It was just odd to listen to myself describe it.  When I started in science, I was super impressed by those glitternig titles on folks’ CVs and I wanted them too!

I have a good number of titles (but not unusual for my level, in my opinion). I like them. I collect them like stickers. They make Mother Squirrel take time away from NCSI smirk and ask “How’s that new job title that they gave you so you’ll do a bunch of work for free going?” And that sort of chafes my tuchus. Because the worst thing your mom can be is right. Ask any teenage how wrong their moms are.

I’m a couple of years into this nutty squirrel business and hope you’ll listen to a bit of wisdom. Don’t seek any more appointments, affiliations or titles. Stop the madness!

You are in a constant battle for your funding and nothing else matters. Publish, get funded. Play nice but don’t do the extra stuff that picks up 5 or 10% of your salary requiring a 4h monthly meeting, annual retreat, brainstorm, restructure, or conference. Don’t do it.

On study sections, I look at your biosketch and wonder why you need ten appointments to get access to the equipment you need. I also wonder how much of your time you’re spending all the emails from centers and institutes and consortium you are ‘affiliated’ with.

I get it. If you’re applying for grant funding and you’re from an excellent school, you’re an especially smart snowflake. I promise to treat you as such. But leave the titles. You’re selling yourself too short for 10% coverage which equals one bathroom break a week and deleting a bunch of emails.

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