How to Get Far More Progress with Less Stress and Effort in Your Research Career

Why the "Usual Approaches" to career challenges often make very little difference in the long run. 

Research careers hold out the promise of freedom to pursue interesting and world-impacting research. Yet in the current environment, it is easy to find oneself often stuck, frustrated, and losing sight of why you started this career in the first place. 

Problems include:

  • Major pressure to get funding through a constant churn of grant submissions, regardless of quality
  • An ever-growing stack of things to do which distract from the research — and pressures from others to do them
  • Difficulties managing a cohesive, focused and productive team
  • Collaborators and mentors who are too busy (or even unable) to contribute much to the projects or your forward movement. 

These issues frequently impact female and minority researchers even more acutely. With less of a willingness (or ability) to “sacrifice everything” just to meet the milestones of success set forth by the powers that be, there is substantial, disconcerting drop-off in ongoing career participation at the higher rungs of success. However, regardless of gender or minority status, these pressures negatively affect all researchers.

The “Natural” Reaction that doesn’t Solve Anything...

The natural reaction for most researchers is to deal with these pressures by alternatively acceding to them — and then sometimes fighting back against them. 

On the acceding side, approaches include trying to be more productive, trying to get more papers and grants out the door, and trying to be seen in a positive light by peers and those evaluating promotion and tenure. Unfortunately, this often ends up in a hamster-wheel where you never seem to quite “catch up” to where you “should be.” “Success” is always on the horizon, and though sometimes it may seem to come closer, it never stays close.

On the fighting side, it’s natural to take up the torch with difficult collaborators, colleagues, or even those on your team who seem like they’re on the opposite page of where you want them to be when it comes to the research moving forward. It’s easy to get angry at seemingly “stupid” and/or “lazy” reviewers who don’t seem to do the work they should be doing to deeply evaluate your proposals and manuscripts. It is easy to get aggravated at all those who seem to play politics so well, thinking you didn’t get into research to play politics: you got into it to do research.

I’ve been there and tried both of those approaches. I experienced that things just continued downhill — even though I had managed to bring in large amounts of grant funding. 

After years of acceding to their demands and seeming to just be a door mat who was trampled all over, I decided to fight. 

Those fights were initially satisfying to no longer feel like a door mat, but they never seemed to get me anywhere. Instead, the fights just begat more fights. It was so frustrating!

It can be easy to feel stuck in between accession and fighting back — with neither seeming to work — and to ultimately become cynical. I have witnessed several friends and colleagues do exactly that: when they hit their 50s, they are jaded and just want to retire from this career that once seemed to hold so much promise. That’s sad for me to see — and it's unnecessary.

The Fights that Ended My Career

It wasn’t until I had my early-mid-career crisis, during a fight with my department over several issues of space and funding (even though I had worked very hard to bring in over $950M in grant funding), that I sent my resignation in. I lost my cool in one of the “fights”, and threw away my tenured job in one fell swoop.

Is that the solution? Just quitting and finding something (or somewhere) else?

Unfortunately, quitting that institution and moving to another did not solve my issues, despite my hope that it would. I landed with the same “fight or accede” mentality at the next institution, and it produced the same results the next time around. I ended up quitting the new job a few years later, also feeling very disappointed over similar issues to what I’d faced before.

Yet Quitting Isn't the Real Solution

My quitting two universities in a row — and throwing away the research career I’d trained for decades — led to a deep period of introspection.

During that period, I came to know one thing: 

The one problem common to all the negative experiences I’d had was me. 

I was the problem — not those other things or people.

Research careers are about as challenging as they get. When faced with the inevitable challenges, neither fighting back, nor acceding and trying to “make them happy” works. Quitting the job — after decades of investment of time and money leading up to it — is just another “accession.”

In my case, when I quit I was both ‘fighting back’ to say “screw you” by taking the funding with me, and I was acceding to the exhaustion.

There are many clients I’ve worked with since then who are at various stages of this fight or accede process; some are nearing readiness to quit, some would never dream of it. Yet in either case they’re often working very hard, sacrificing family and life balance to try to make a research career work to chase the ever-receding horizon of “recognition” (aka “external success”).

The Outside-In

In the early years of my introspection after quitting the real problem came into focus: I and most people, when faced with these challenges, try to change the outside world to improve the situation

I saw this too, while working with clients who were showing up with similar external problems like what I had faced. 

They had problems with space, funding, collaborators, their team, and so on — and often appeared to be in endless loops of either fighting these things or acceding to them, sometimes alternating between the two.

The real problem is that it simply doesn’t work to try to “force change” on other people

Sometimes, it doesn’t seem like we’re asking them to change, when we often are. 

For example, when we want our promotion/tenure committee to “like us,” we are actually trying to exert a sort of “mind control” on them. It may not seem nefarious at first glance, yet frustration is the inevitable result when the committee doesn’t agree with our designated plan for how they should think about us.

When we want grant and/or paper reviewers to be “impressed” we are also attempting mind control. We want the reviewer to see us in a positive light, yet frustratingly often they do not. Our mind control attempts fail because other people cannot be controlled in the way we would like.

When we fight back with collaborators who may seem to be taking more than they’re giving, they generally don’t change; instead we just end up with more exhausting fights. I’ve been there and done that too many times to count.

It is a self-evident truth that our power to change the world — and especially other people — is generally vain and futile. It may occasionally yield what seems like progress, only to fade and be replaced by similar problems with just another person’s face on them.

Where Our
Empowerment Is

Our only true power to make changes is within ourselves. 

This means changing our thoughts, our actions, and our habits to those that are more functional, to yield more of what it is we want from our career — and our precious, time-limited life.

It is not easy to do.

It is easier — albeit far less effective — to fight or accede. When a department chair tells you to “just submit more grant proposals” (regardless of quality or readiness) it may be easier to just accede to the demand.

Later, maybe you “lose it” and blow up with your department chair, fighting back and yelling at them (like I did). That doesn’t work very well, either.

Yet our only power to change is within us.

The power to identify: what is it in me that caused this situation in the first place? How did I invite this behavior from the department chair into my life? Why did I invite repeated rejection from grant reviewers?

Then, once you identify things, to go about changing those things within yourself that created the situations. That’s the only thing you can change with any reliability.

My “Problems” that Could Only be Solved from the Inside-Out

In the years that followed quitting, I identified a litany of “issues” I had had that led to the many difficult situations during those jobs — which no amount of “hard work” (acceding) or “yelling” (fighting) could fix. I realized exactly how these issues had produced the frustrating situations I experienced while there.

For example, I lacked the inner confidence, I didn't believe that I was deserving and capable enough to maintain the success I had achieved. Sure, I could project external confidence to “impress” people — and even to sometimes convince myself — but it was no more substantive than a scarecrow guarding a field.

The more grant funding I got, the worse the disconnect became between my lacking inner confidence versus the outer appearance of success. While it solved some of my problems, having more funding made others worse (like the fights with my department over space).

In over a decade of working with clients, one principle has emerged: the only lasting progress towards a more enjoyable and sustainable career (and life) comes from going to work on the inner causes of problems (like in my case the lack of inner confidence). All other forms of work produce ephemeral results. Inner work is the only thing that produces lasting results.

Inner Work is Hard, and Requires Outside Input and Support

So, if inner work is the only way to get lasting results, why isn’t everyone doing it?

There are two major reasons. 

First, it is hard work. It is much harder than the other kinds of “hard work” (like long hours) that most of us are accustomed to. That’s because our Ego really doesn’t like change. It actively resists change, and will fight back in very tricky, often inconspicuous ways. This is why so many New Year's resolutions are soon forgotten, the Ego simply doesn’t want to change, even if change is sorely needed.

Second, we humans are often very ineffective at the kind of introspection required to identify the dysfunctional beliefs and habits that have been causing us problems. Often we see them as “reality” rather than seeing them as “just a belief.” This problem is compounded by the tricks that the Ego will play to avoid change, making it even more difficult to identify and change those things that are causing us problems.

The Only Reliable Solution: Getting External Support and Training to Help Break Through the Ego Barriers

When the ego starts playing its tricks to avoid change, it is vital to have a coach or mentor who will point this out to you, so you can see where you are getting stuck.
When it seems “impossible” to make the difficult changes in ways of operating that aren’t serving you, it is vital to have a community of other peers who are on a similar journey and can support you.
When it seems like you are all alone in facing difficulties with collaborators, supervisors, or lab members, it is vital to have peers who have faced or are facing similar challenges to support you so you see you are not alone.
When you wonder “am I really good enough to maintain and even grow my success?” it is critical to have others to cheer you on.

It is for these reasons - and many more - that I founded the Research Success Alliance

After years of work on myself, and investing in a great deal of outside-my-head help, I started seeing major, positive changes in my life. The drama and politics I used to experience diminished, and the overall efficacy increased

In turn, I helped many clients achieve similar results — substantially increasing career and life satisfaction, while reducing the drama, frustration, and the unnecessary over-work that often goes with research jobs.

I created the Research Success Alliance to translate those results to a wider group of researchers than the small cadre I’d intensively worked with.

The Research Success Alliance has been Transforming Lives Through a Combination of Mentoring, Coaching, and Training

Take a Deep Look at the Inner Issues that are Causing Outer Problems, With Included Training Programs like the RSA Core Lessons.

Improve the clarity and quality of your research and professional direction.
Learn how to supervise and mentor others with more alignment to your personal style.
Become clear on who you are at your core - your unique individuality - and how to align that with what you’re doing for optimal progress and enjoyment of your career.
Be proactive in setting up the systems, strategies, and personal boundaries necessary for your success and satisfaction.
Learn strategies to take care of your physical and mental health to support resilience.

On Our Regular Group Coaching Calls, You can Discuss Your Challenges - and Get Outside Input Into What May be Going On. 

Become more adept at seeing multiple perspectives and possibilities. 
Feel less overwhelmed,  less over-worked and less isolated.
Become more confident with your personal contributions, presence, and path.
Identify the boundaries that you hold — or let slide — around pursuing your research and life in the way that best suits you.
See your distractions more clearly--those things that don’t really matter to your own personal progress.
Tune into why you’re really in a research career and use that to keep you motivated even when the going gets rough.
Understand how modes of thought and behavior exhibit a “resonance” with certain other people, and build on that to produce your best results.

However, those solutions will come from inside—out change, rather than the futile outside-in approach most people naturally take.

The support and training provided by the Research Success Alliance is exactly what I sorely needed when I was struggling, and ultimately decided, to leave my faculty job. 

It doesn’t have to be a struggle. Whether you love the job and want to stay, or whether you want to get out and move on — there needn’t be such drama, challenge, and over-work/overwhelm. However, you have to commit.

The results speak for themselves:

What have our clients gained from participating in the Research Success Alliance?

Confidence! - This is still a work in progress, but I no longer feel that having confidence is something I can only dream of. Now I feel more comfy in my own skin and skillsets, and places where I need work, I know there are actionable steps I can take. My grant writing - writing skills in general - have improved. And I am better at attracting people I want to work with, and creating boundaries.

Tanya Garcia, Associate Professor, UNC Chapel Hill

I feel less overwhelmed, less over-worked, less isolated. and more consistently productive (instead of a "boom and bust" cycle). The quality of both my manuscripts and my mentoring and supervising has improved, and these things are a lot more fun. My work is more aligned with my core interests, and I have a clearer sense of how to view my work in terms of contributing to the broader community. — 

Tamara Newton, University of Louisville

Join Now and Get...

Full Access to Training Courses 

Get full access to a library of proprietary training courses.

Learn more about topics like grant-writing, leadership, productivity, mindset, and more - to help you develop an inside-out approach to career challenges.

  • Research Success Alliance Foundation Lessons
  • The Grant Dynamo 2
  • Uber-Productivity
  • Four Steps to Funding
  • Mind Foundry
  • PLUS: Ad-Hoc and Special Trainings just for RSA Members

Grant and Career Feedback Calls

Two calls each month, one with a focus on grants and funding, and the other with a focus on career strategy.

Get help with Grant Writing, Manuscripts, Job Talks, CVs, and more from our academic coaches. 

Bring questions about overall strategy or implementation of specific skills you learn in our courses.

Submit pieces of your work for a potential live "hot seat" review and group discussion,

Improve your skills in order to connect with your reviewers and receive more funding and recognition.

Community Support and Mindset Calls

Get help working though any challenges that come up on our twice monthly community support and mindset calls. 

 Get feedback on issues that matter to you in your career: 

  • Managing your lab
  • Dealing with collaborators and colleagues
  • Balancing your work and family life 
  • Moving to a new position
  • Creating your vision
  • Determining where your mental beliefs are holding you back
  • And more!

"Make Big Inner Progress" Recordings 

Special  "Deep Mindset"  trainings just for RSA Members recorded by Morgan. 

Submit your questions on Leadership or Mindset in advance.

Listen in later for deep insight and support on your specific big-picture challenges. 

A Community of Like-Minded Researchers

Meet your new tribe of growth-minded scientists and research professionals!

Members get first access to additional 1:1 coaching calls, and early access to spots in intensive courses like the Grant Foundry program. 

24/7 Online Discussion Group

Interact with your peers and coaches on weekly calls, and in the 24/7 community discussion forum. 

Get feedback on your questions, big and small, share your wins and breakthroughs, and discuss how to address common challenges.

But does all of this really make a difference?

Here are some examples of break-throughs our clients have experienced through participation in the RSA program:

+ Stepping into a leadership position with a clear vision and personal empowerment.

Improved writing skills and clarity for grants and manuscripts.

Reconnecting with passion both in and outside of work.

Improving  balance of work and family life.

Gaining clarity on career direction and whether to pursue a position at a new institution.

Creating effective personal boundaries and expectations in order to lead a lab more powerfully and efficiently.

Giving permission to oneself to be happy and let go of the belief “I have to work all the time.”

Join Us Today

Your Mission in RSA, Should You Choose To Accept it:

To develop your inner awareness, strength, and control in order to have a more satisfying, sustainable, and breakthrough career in science. 

Monthly Membership


Get access to all the training, calls and community for as long as you need it. 

Cancel Anytime!

My Guarantee to You

Due to the nature of coaching in this program, we have a withdraw period of 7 days. During this period, a full refund will be given if you choose to withdraw. After this period, please cancel 1 business day ahead of your monthly renewal date to ensure you are not charged. 

Are you ready to get off the hamster-wheel and get back to making a difference in you research career? 

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