If I were to offer a new academic advice it would be to not be afraid to take advice from your colleagues; especially with respect to writing. I was talking to one of my collaborators the other day and they told me ‘I never let anyone in the Department read my grants before I submit them; I am too scared‘. I can definitely understand this point of view. It is scary to be critiqued and expose your writing style to the world. Also, if you are working on something that is a hot topic then you may not want the rest of the world to see your creative ideas just yet.
But that grant/paper/cover letter is going to get read, by somebody, and I would rather have one of my colleagues (that I trust) give me advice than just simply leave that to an unknown committee.
My view is quite the opposite of my collaborator’s, I actively try to get people to have a look over of my grant, my publications, my cover letters – everything and anything. I would much rather have a friendly colleague tell me when my ideas don’t make any sense on paper, than a less friendly review panel. A bit of advice helps improve your writing style and conveyance of tricky topics. It also helps with clarity, sometimes when you have read something over and over again it says to you what you think it should say not what it actually does say. Someone else might read it and think – WTF? This is something you need to know.
The other good thing about soliciting advice, is you don’t have to take it. You can ask people for a read, but just because they suggest that you do something doesn’t mean you have to. Even bad advice allows you to think about exactly why you don’t want to change something and again improves your ability to express yourself.
Unsolicited advice, on the other hand, can be really annoying. As often as not, I find unsolicited advice rather useless as it seems to be given by a deliverer who just wants to tell you about how well they think and how well written they are rather than providing anything helpful. Still there is some honesty and helpfulness even in unsolicited assertions – such as on blog post comments; I have had all manner of useful advice through this venue – who says the internet isn’t useful?