Another roadblock for new researchers is self-confidence. The interview process, when you’re asked to stand in front of leaders in your field and give a talk outlining the projects you’d like to tackle in your lab, can leave some feeling a bit bruised. You might have gotten a job, but for some, those biting comments remain in their ear, feeding doubts about the merits of their proposals.
UCLA’s Nelson felt like he was adrift scientifically during his first year. Still stung by criticism that some of his ideas elicited on the job-talk circuit, Nelson lost some trust in his own instincts in the lab. The feedback even made him abandon one particular project altogether. “Scientist Hosea would have just done what I love. But in the context of this job, your mind runs wild and you start doing other stuff,” he says.
After not feeling happy about how research went his first year, he decided to go back to that project. Six months in, it was working splendidly. So much so that in March it yielded his group’s first publication—in Science.
Schmidt also felt a bit battered after the job-search process. “It was tough to have people talk about your science and say, ‘Oh, that’s not going to work,’ ” she says. Her strategy has been to work extra hard to get to the paper that shows the harshest critics that she was right after all.I gotta say, it's very hard for me not to take criticism personally, even as (over the years), I've developed the ability to have a thick skin, or at least a short-ish memory. I imagine that ability to not have one's self-confidence completely broken (while drawing lessons from criticism) is something that distinguishes the very successful from the less-so.