Much has been written about junior researchers, students and postdocs, not receiving enough advising about the different career prospects or not enough training in the aspects critical for their desired careers (e.g. teaching, grant writing, or mentoring for the academically inclined).
Today I want to write about giving up on giving advice to someone. Because sometimes people simply don't want your advice, even though it will likely be to their career's detriment. Even though you are actually their advisor so it is really your job to look out for them and, yes, give them advice.
I wrote about this particular student before. He is very talented, and I think I have made it clear that I consider him to be. Perhaps that is a problem and too much praise made him think himself infallible.
He wants to be a faculty member. I think he has the technical prowess and the intellectual capacity, but is lacking in a number of other skills and his CV does not still look as good as I would like it to look at this stage of his career. I have tried to speak with him several times about what he needs to do to improve his chances of becoming a faculty. A couple of days ago was the last time we spoke, and at that point I swore to myself that this was the last time I was offering him advice. It's like talking to a brick wall. For every suggestion I made he had a counter-argument. Apparently, he knows best.
1) The student spent significantly longer than usual taking classes because he wanted to also get an M.A. in another department (corresponding to a "purer" discipline); I was on board with that, and he has really enjoyed his classes. However, that did detract from research, and we are only now to submit his first first-author paper (a comprehensive piece of work); he also has a second-author paper and a book chapter from his work here. He wants to be done with his PhD by the end of the year (which will be the end of his 4th year with me), and I told him that he will not have the number of papers that my very good students typically have when they graduate (7-8 journal papers plus a number of conferences, and I try to have each also write either a book chapter or a review). The bare minimum I request, in order for a student to graduate with a PhD, is three journal papers, preferably first-author; but, I think he is very good and his CV should do his abilities and hard work justice. It would be a shame for him to graduate with the bare minimum of papers, when an additional 6 months or a year (putting him at 5 years on the PhD) may result in several more.
He said the following: he expects to go to a very specific person (a big fish in a small pond kind of guy) to do a postdoc and he will make up for deficient publications there. I asked: how does he know that person will even be having money/hiring a postdoc? How does he know this person wants to work with him, have they been in contact? (No.) If he needs to go elsewhere, he may need to switch topics completely, and may have a long ramp-up time before he can publish anything. He may not get along with the postdoc advisor. There is no guarantee that the postdoc cures all CV ailments.
2) I got a TT position right after my PhD and never saw a grant proposal until it was time to write one; I would have been grateful for a chance to see how they are written, and now that I am a faculty I make a point of having my students and postdocs with academic aspirations take part in the proposal writing and review process. A few months ago, I had the student read through a proposal and give comments. He did it grudgingly and was grumpy the whole time. I told him that, since he says he wants to be a faculty, he needs to see how proposals are written, but all he commented on was that this deterred from his real research and that he was way too busy with classes.
3) While his English is fine, his writing is pretty bad. I rarely read something so dry, dense, and conveying almost contempt towards the reader. Editing his recent, very comprehensive paper, has been killing me. I have told him several times that he needs to work on his writing and that he needs to tell a story first and foremost and not fuck the reader in the eyeballs (no, I didn't say that, but I wish I had). His response was that perhaps we didn't always have to write such long papers (?!) You write a paper when you have something important to say, and paper length and publication venue depend on what it is that you want to say. Every paper has to be good, but no, not every paper has to be long.
4) My favorite: interactions with people. I have become blue in the face on many occasions talking about how important it is to talk to people at conferences: go to talks, introduce yourself, talk about your work, listen to other people talk about theirs. That is how you get ideas for new work. He does not like to go to seminars, does not want to mentor junior students, has refused to TA to get teaching experience. When he goes to a conference, he doesn't talk to anyone, doesn't want to network. When he gives talks, he stares at his feet or the screen and speaks in monotone. When two of my students recently graduated and I took the group to dinner, he was the only one who didn't come. He does not like people.
And he told me that most people are like him (presumably introverted) and not like me (presumably extroverted; for the record, I find active networking uncomfortable, but I do it anyway; that's the only way to prosper). I asked whether he knew anyone younger than 50 who shuns people and happens to have a faculty position? He didn't have the answer to that one.
5) When I asked him a few days ago if he knew what faculty actually did, he said very firmly that he had a very good idea and that he was sure that he wanted to become faculty. And then he topped it off with a gratuitous slight that we didn't do research anyway, so apparently this is an easy job!
My husband says that I should not be surprised that the student is so unreceptive to my advice -- he is a guy, after all, and all guys hate being given unsolicited advice. That might be true, but I am his advisor and am expected to advise him about his career. A person who thinks they know best about the job they never held, better than someone actually doing the job, is not a particularly smart person.
I for one am done giving this student advice. I have talked to him time and time again, and I am officially done talking. He is free to screw up his career all on his own.