Beware survivorship bias in advice on science careers

For objective careers advice, talk to those who left… as well as those who stayed.

A major flaw in much scientific and academic career advice is survivorship bias. This is a common logical error, involving drawing conclusions based on those who have ‘survived’ a process — and are thus more visible than those who did not. In the case of science careers advice, the bias arises because those who manage to stick to their chosen career path are there to advise the next generation of researchers on how to stay in their field.

Some of our success came from hard work, grit and good judgement. But much of it came from decisions, luck and circumstances that never make it into careers advice. For example, job opportunities for D.R. and her friends have come about through having drinks with senior scientists, and D.R. was invited to publish her first book Does It Fart? thanks to a completely unplanned Twitter hashtag. Chance or serendipitous experiences such as these are impossible to replicate, yet are key to many people’s ability to stay in their chosen career.

For these reasons, survivorship bias in career advice becomes self-perpetuating. Those who survived and thrived because of privilege assume that those hoping to follow in their footsteps are in similar financial and social situations; conversely, those who lack that privilege are less likely to make it to a position from which they can give less biased advice.

The fact that you overcame a barrier does not preclude it unfairly excluding many others.

Beware survivorship bias in advice on science careers (

True. I always say talk to “failures” too

Failure have the reason why they never succeed. Kuna wenye hutumia pesa kupenya or they were born in a silver plate.