Advice on research and writing

There is lots of good advice on research and writing out there. One source that I particularly want to highlight is Ken Caldeira's (Carnegie Institution for Science) blog, especially his posts on writing papers and picking problems to work on (prospective advisees, take note). Beyond this, I strongly recommend Steven Pinker's book The Sense of Style as a style guide (see 'What we're reading' for a summary). Check out Ryan Edwards' (Australian National University) Resources page for many other advice links, aimed largely at economists.

Advice on getting a job


Getting an academic job is hard. It is highly competitive and involves navigating a lot of unwritten rules. Here are some useful advice packages for economists and ecologists (labeled by author). 


American Economic Association 

Chris Blattman (University of Chicago)

University of Chicago

Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz (Harvard)


Dynamic Ecology (compiled by Meghan Duffy, University of Michigan)

Elena Bennett (McGill University)

Anurag Agrawal (Cornell) and others

Aside from these, my best advice for those seeking academic jobs is to estimate how many jobs you think you should apply to in order to be successful, and then apply to twice as many as that. Once your CV is competitive and your job talk is polished, it all comes down to things like fit, which can be stochastic and hard to predict. The best way to overcome this is to cast a wide net. And a place you might have initially written off could pleasantly surprise you when you visit. 


Jennifer Polk (see also her compilation here)

Princeton Career Services

Overcoming impostor syndrome

Impostor syndrome describes the unsettling feeling of being underqualified, and of not belonging, that many academics have--often despite achieving measurable successes. Many articles have been written on how to overcome impostor syndrome (e.g., see compilation here). Two key pieces of wisdom that have stuck with me are: (i) If you feel like you're underqualified from time to time, that probably means you're challenging yourself, which is exactly what you should be doing! Keep it up. And if you've never felt like an impostor, that may be a sign that you would benefit from challenging yourself more. (ii) Most people feel this way at various points throughout their career. So, if you feel like an impostor, welcome to the club! You belong and you are probably doing much better than you think you are.

Mental health resources

Promoting mental health and wellness is vital to fulfilling and productive educational experiences and lab culture. Graduate and postdoctoral education can be extremely fun and rewarding, but it can also bring challenges and periods of anxiety. Unfortunately, the prevalence of mental illness among graduate students is alarmingly high and has been increasing in recent years. So, if you are struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health challenges, know that you are not alone, and that there are resources on and off campus for help. Below are some links to campus mental health resources at CU, some other online resources, and some self-care tips that I (Matt) have found helpful.

CU’s mental health resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255)

Dynamic Ecology post/survey on universities’ approaches to grad student mental health 

Jill Richardson's (UW-Madison) 2017 column in Inside Higher Ed

Radhika Nagpal's (Harvard) Scientific American column on work-life balance on the tenure track

Some additional tips that I* have found helpful: 

*Everyone is different, so if something else works better for you, by all means do that.

1. Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins and boosts serotonin activity, both of which are physiologically helpful to your mental health. (Sunlight, massages, and remembering happy events also boost serotonin activity.) For me, a key to staying motivated has been paying attention to which exercise activities I enjoy most (e.g., basketball and soccer), rather than which are most efficient (e.g., running). Another key at times has been having a gym buddy who pushes me to exercise on days when I lack motivation.

2. Sleep. This one can be hard during the down times, because sleep problems and mental health problems can reinforce each other. But getting 8+ hours as often as possible can have a big positive impact on mental health.

3. Take a break from Twitter and Facebook. Social media can be used for good in both life and science, be it communicating results with the public, discovering papers you otherwise would have missed, or reconnecting with an old friend. But it also can bring out the worst in people, especially in high doses. In fact these platforms were designed to do this--to be addictive, to make people narcissistic and hyperconscious of their numbers of likes/followers/etc., and to encourage and spread outrage and moral posturing, all to boost the amount of time people spend using the platforms. Whenever I take a break from Twitter and Facebook, I'm amazed at how much more time I have, and how much better I feel about myself, others in my network, and society as a whole.   

4. Eat healthy as much as possible, but indulge in comforts when you need to. Healthy eating is also physiologically conducive to good mental health. But occasionally, I find that an indulgence on a tough day can improve my mood and reinforce my self worth.

5. Prioritize your happiness. This may sound trite, but people will tend to be most successful at the thing they prioritize most. Whenever two objectives come into conflict, the higher priority tends to win out. Sometimes, we make choices that we know deep down will make us less happy, because we feel we have to, e.g., because it will please so-and-so or be a good opportunity for such-and-such. Often, we later regret these choices.

6. Focus on the things you can control. Many things that affect our lives are beyond our control. While it's difficult not to, focusing on these things too much can make us feel disempowered and frustrated, and it can even make us behave more narcissistically and antisocially, which harms our relationships. There are many things in life we can control, including how we behave and to some extent how we internalize our experiences, both of which can have a big impact on mental health. 

7. Keep moving. While it can be difficult when you're down, doing something that can give you a feeling of accomplishment can be the big morale booster you need. It can be anything; it doesn't have to be related to any particular task or goal (e.g., work). In fact, a useful distraction often works best. For instance, if you're down about work, try cleaning your room/house/apartment. If you're down about project A, try to get something done on project B. If you're feeling anxious about something in your personal life, try getting some work done.

8. Take a break. Your career is a marathon, not a sprint, and sometimes you just need a break. That can be a vacation (or a stay-cation), but breaks on smaller timescales are also important--be it the no-screen weekend, the afternoon coffee break, keeping up with a hobby, or hanging out with friends.

Broadening your mind

Political polarization is emerging as one of the greatest threats to our democracy. It is also a threat to science. Polarization makes us retreat to our in-groups, hardens our motivated reasoning, and causes us to evaluate truth claims based on their support for our political tribe as much as or moreso than their veracity. When one political faction dominates--as people with left-of-center politics do in most of the academy--it makes science vulnerable to confirmation bias, and to eroding of public support (indeed, support for universities among U.S. Republicans has nosedived since 2015). The OpenMind platform has some excellent resources allowing academics to explore the psychological roots of tribalism, and to foster intellectual humility and constructive disagreement. Civil Politics also has some good resources and advice for improving the public discourse. By broadening our minds, building intellectual humility, and learning to disagree more constructively, we can become better scientists and also better citizens.

Other resources

Elena Bennett (McGill University) has one of the best and most comprehensive resources and advice pages I've seen (in fact, it inspired me to have a resources page on this website). I strongly recommend you check it out, here. Jay Van Bavel (NYU) also has a good page on academic career advice and "the hidden curriculum" here.

My (Matt's) slides on 'advice everyone (i.e. every young person) should get but few will give you' (from a talk I gave on career advice in early 2020).