Earlier today, I saw this tweet, read the post, and was disappointed.
The reason for my disappointment was that the tweet itself – “Criticism hurts. But sometimes it’s a good hurt!” – made me (for some unknown reason) expect a post with a different point. Instead of criticizing (hah!) The 100% CI for not having written that post, however, I’m just going to write it myself.
Here we go.
Some of you might have heard of phobias. Let’s pick a spider phobia, as a relatively common and straightforward example. (I’m sorry, any readers with spider phobia!)
If you don’t want to feel (excessively) scared of spiders any more, you might go to a psychologist. The psychologist might recommend exposure therapy. As part of this therapy, you might write out a set of “steps” from least feared stimulus (e.g. talking about spiders) to most feared stimulus (e.g. having a spider drop on your head while you’re in the shower). Then, you work through the steps, practicing anxiety management techniques as you go. The aim is not usually to completely eliminate any anxiety response when a spider comes your way, but to reduce it – through habituation, through learning some anxiety management techniques, and through developing along the way a sense of self-efficacy. By the end of it, you’ve been through so many experiences with spiders, it won’t be the end of the world next time one crawls across your leg as you’re sitting at your desk. (Yes, this happened to me. It was this big.)
So, in the context of the therapy, contact with spiders hurts. But it’s a good hurt! Because, it is helping you deal better with the hurt out in the “real world”.
To bring this back to the domain of scientific criticism, then… partly, I’m making the same point as Julia, Daniel, and Simine – intermittent criticism is useful and necessary, both because it makes you (and yours ideas) stronger, and because it helps you deal with criticism later.
But it’s particularly the latter part that I want to highlight. Receiving some criticism now, helps you deal with criticism later. (At least, that’s my hypothesis, based on my exposure therapy analogy. Seems plausible? Tell me if not!)
This suggests that perhaps we can, and should, not just talk about how criticism is important, and continue to provide criticism, but also practice receiving criticism.
My (completely unsolicited) “advice” here is pretty broad: practice feeling anxious and vulnerable, so you develop techniques for dealing with it. (And like in the phobia example, you don’t have to (shouldn’t have to!) do this on your own – but thoughts about the support structures will be a post for another day.) Ask for feedback often. Share unfinished work and half-thought-through ideas. Talk before you think. If the feedback you get is still too positive (I know, it can be hard to be the criticizer too), find ways to give people no option. Bake a cake for your colleagues but forget to add sugar. Wear something extremely unfashionable and weird to a family gathering. Perform your poetry on a first date.
It’ll hurt; but it’s a good hurt! You’ll habituate, learn anxiety management techniques, and develop along the way a sense of self-efficacy. Then, when a spider does drop on your head (or, idk, your PI tells you that the last 2 months of data you’ve collected is useless), it’ll still hurt, and it won’t be a good hurt (this is real life remember, not “practice”), but it also won’t be the end of the world.