Advice on Getting Advice

November 13, 2018

clem-onojeghuo-381193-unsplashPeople tend to have a lot of varying opinions — on every topic possible. Just imagine how many different responses you could get when asking what flavor of ice cream you should order or what type of car you should buy. Everyone has their own unique preferences and often their distinct experiences have helped shape their opinions on these topics.

The same is true for advice about career and life choices.

This sounds like common sense, right? However, it is often surprising how many trainees will make major life decisions based on one PI’s opinion or another mentor’s passing advice. At OITE, we often hear trainees say they received conflicting advice/input and need guidance on how to proceed. Here are some basic principles to keep in mind when receiving advice.

Understand that advice should help you to make a decision, not tell you what your decision should be. This is a crucial distinction. Most well-trained career counselors will not share their opinion on what you should do with your life and career; rather, they often ask open-ended questions to help get you thinking about your options and what your preferences might be. The goal in career counseling is to help you develop new ideas and/or to share resources that might eventually help you have that lightbulb moment of clarity.

With that said, advisors, mentors, PIs, parents, partners, and friends all will often share their advice with you. Most are well-meaning and trying to help you. But, just like product reviews on Amazon, you can’t take any one opinion too seriously, unless it really resonates with you. It is important to remember the source for the advice. Often we hear postbacs report advice they received on their medical school application from a PI who never went to medical school nor served on a medical school admission committee. The advice may or may not be sound, so it is important to verify that you are getting accurate advice from a trustworthy person.

Another common mistake alluded to about advice is the tendency to take one opinion as fact. Just like in your experiments, you want to have a broad and diverse sample to pull from as it will only help strengthen you research findings. The same is true with advice. We often recommend doing informational interviews, but are surprised when trainees rule out an entire field because of one bad informational interview. Remember that you might not have the exact same personality or work style as that person and be sure to seek multiple opinions.

Asking for advice and seeking help in making a decision or solving a problem is a great thing to do; just be sure to weigh these opinions properly and don’t let any single advice-giver have more power than you allow yourself.

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