When Isis wrote her post using the Despair.com de-inspirational posters, I was totally excited. Back in my more dark-humor post-doc days, when the randomness of the job market obsessed me, I adored the Despair.com posters. So, I followed her link and perused my favorites once again.
Figure 1. Example from the River Tam list of favorites: "Mediocrity: It takes a lot less time and most people won't notice the difference until it is too late."
However, one of the Despair.com posters has always had an important ring of truth to me:
Figure 2: "It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others"
I don't know about the rest of you, but I have some of these people who serve as reminders that "here be monsters" that will sink my own ship if I am not careful. People who do not understand how they got where they are and are not happy about it. There was the woman who published plenty of papers but not really any first authored papers who makes everyone flinchy about her ability to take a scientific lead on projects. There were the various graduate students who focused on lots of easy, first-authored publications in undistinguished journals of ill-repute and now don't understand why major research universities are not interested in giving them a job. There is my friend who chased the easy money and not the ideas and is realizing that they have ended up doing research that bores both them and their colleagues. I used to dismiss these people as the inevitable end of someone who was not cut out for the career path I wanted. In some cases, this is true. I've known a few analogs of the drunken captain of the Exxon Valdez who not only ran their ship ashore but did a lot of damage along the way. But many of these were talented friends who only years later did I understand the lesson they had taught me as I found myself in similar waters. They remind me how easy it is to take one's eye off the direction you really want to go and make expedient or expected choices that actually take you away from your preferred path.
In some ways these anti-role models have been as important to me as my role models. Right now they seem more so, as I try to figure out what to do about my confused university and if I am at my own critical juncture and about to become my own warning to others. While role models provide me with guiding examples of who I want to be and how I want to live my life, anti-role models serve a more basic function of warning me of specific things to make sure I don't do along the way.
I haven't been as funny lately as I have wished to be, so I'll leave you with one last poster from Despair.com
Figure 3. "None of us is as dumb as all of us." River Tam's opinion of committees and faculty meetings.
Update: General Disarray distracted me and I posted without the relevant links to the Isis post and Despair.com (Sorry, Isis! I beg of you, no smiting!)