The rule of two – Check!

I’ve talked before about some of the persistent unwritten rules in academia that are heavily outdated, but still spreading. Somehow, they are always about numbers. For instance, the ridiculous rule of four – which posits that as long as you write four papers per year, you should be fine. I think it’s a bunch of horse shit, to be honest. Circumstances matter. In my view it’s better to have one good paper that you’re proud of, than four shitty papers that you don’t stand by. Still, the rule of four pops up every now and then, so this must mean that many people disagree with me. Anyway, I digress. This post is about another, maybe even more ridiculous written rule. The rule of two.

You can’t make this shit up. The rule of two I have heard from so many people now, that I almost start believing it. The rule of two posits that in order to make it in academia, you need two years of foreign experience. I don’t see how this is in any way a useful prerequisite. In this day and age, it is not about collaborations. Collaborations can be done without foreign experience easily. Everything is online these days anyway. The concept of ‘experiencing other lab cultures’ I also don’t buy. You can experience different lab cultures close to home, and in much shorter time frames. Besides, if you’re in a good place, regularly collaborating with others (wherever they are), happy, and successful (whatever that means), why would the two years elsewhere be important? To me, this two year period just feels like a huge filter, to separate those that can be without access to their social circle at home, and those that cannot. I think this filter has very little to do with skill. In fact, I think it is one of the reasons why so many assholes persist.

“Hey, but you can always come back…”

Sure, I can come back, to many friendships that feel forgotten, to family that never understood why we left in the first place. All my relationships have suffered. All. Zero exceptions.

Was it worth it? I can’t deny that I have had great professional opportunities here. However, I am certain that I could have done similarly well if I had stayed in the same place. It’s just that everyone told me that I needed the two years. It’s the only reason I left. I loved my home and life in the Netherlands.

So today’s the day. My CV has magically been upgraded to a new level. There’s now a check mark at the ‘2 years of foreign experience’. It’s nice and shiny and gold! Look at my CV being all fantastic suddenly.

I can’t wait for tomorrow morning! I expect a full inbox, with more job offers than I can read. Everyone knows that great rewards come to those that stick with the rule of two!

In reality, the current job situation seems pretty grim. I don’t think I will be back home any time soon…

Now I’ve heard some rules about not staying in the same postdoc position too long. Uh oh! I may violate this important unwritten academic rule… But, but, but… Now what?

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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