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If we have a meme on this site, it's "Don't walk. Run." It is like an inside joke for the community ... but the joke might not be clear to newcomers.

If we could get past the semantic satiation for a minute, somebody quitting their real-life position and looking for employment/studies elsewhere is a serious issue and should be treated seriously.

I think it's especially problematic coming from hugely successful academics working in rock-star departments who don't know the culture in other areas and departments.

Lots of questions are coming from inexperienced researchers and typically paint a one-sided picture. Highly-upvoted comments in bold left by experienced academics telling inexperienced academics that they leave their job as soon as possible ... I sometimes find it uncomfortable.

A couple of examples of where it made me cringe:

  • Handling credit with advisor: a question that seems almost too simple in terms of not being the whole story. The first piece of advice isn't "have you tried talking with her?" but rather "Don't walk. Run." ... with 18 upvotes.

  • What to do: PI lied to me and is keeping my grant!: a difficult question that requires legal advice, not a pithy comment.

  • There was another example I can't find right now where a student mentioned that in their school, they require the permission of their supervisor to publish. This was met with "Don't walk. Run" from JeffE which seemed entirely inappropriate. A school guideline requiring students to clear affiliated publications with their supervisor seems pretty reasonable (if a tad distrustful) ... certainly not grounds to quit.


Anyone agree that this meme is potentially damaging? It just doesn't seem worth the risk.

Folks using this meme should have some respect for the fact that they're advising another human being to quit their job/studies ... and they should keep in mind that they are simultaneously communicating with thousands of vulnerable people from a variety of areas who see such questions and who might project themselves as being in similar situations.

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    Great question. I think Jeff used it somewhat sparingly, but as it becomes a meme it gets used as memes do, which is always and inappropriately, and for those not in the know that can definitely be a problem. – eykanal May 11 '14 at 2:09
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    I think common sense should solve the issues here. Common sense tells us: 1) search for a job and find a new one before leaving the one you are at, 2) be sure the new place is better, get some evidence and 3) consider the costs of moving (time, resources, etc.) every investment requires considering the costs and the risks. Anyway this is probably something that could be said to anyone in academia or considering to enter academia, unfortunately the world outside doesn't look much better. In the end, we need to start a new society from scratch in a new planet. – Trylks Jun 16 '14 at 10:52
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I use the response "Don't walk. Run." to mean exactly two things, neither of which is intended as a joke.

  • You are being abused. Get out now. Further engagement will only hurt you more. Seek professional (and possibly legal) help, but from a safe distance, after you extract yourself.

  • Your relationship with your advisor/colleague/department is broken beyond repair. The situation has progressed beyond the point where it can be salvaged. Further engagement will not be productive, and may do you permanent professional harm.

In retrospect, I really should distinguish between these two responses, and I will certainly be more careful in the future. The latter is probably better summarized as "Walk away."

I sometimes find it uncomfortable

Good. It is uncomfortable.

There was another example I can't find right now where a student mentioned that in their school, they require the permission of their supervisor to publish. This was met with "Don't walk. Run" from JeffE which seemed entirely inappropriate.

I stand by my response. Forbidding researchers (students or otherwise) to publish without their supervisor's permission, in an academic environment, is unethical bordering on abusive. Of course, research should only be published with the agreement of all contributors (or as they are usually known after publication, coauthors), and it's entirely appropriate for equipment owners to restrict access to their research equipment, but those are completely separate issues. If your students' poor-quality publications are sullying the reputation of your department, it's your responsibility to mentor and reward them more effectively, not lock them up.

Folks using this meme should have some respect for the fact that they're advising another human being to quit their job/studies ... and they should keep in mind that they are simultaneously communicating with thousands of vulnerable people from a variety of areas who see such questions and who might project themselves as being in similar situations.

This is absolutely correct. I am indeed advising another human being to quit their job, leave their department, or at least find a new advisor. And I am communicating that message to thousands to vulnerable people who might believe themselves to be in similar situations. Which is exactly why I give that answer.

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    Thanks for the response! It was actually the second last point where I disagree most and it was the issue that put this question in my mind. If that person left just because their supervisor has to give permission for them to publish, I think that would be way overboard. I believe that there are many valid reasons why this would be required in certain departments, particularly those with NDAs/industry collaborations, for example. In your culture it might be unthinkable but in many other academic cultures it is probably necessary for publications to be cleared. – badroit May 13 '14 at 16:59
  • I added a related question here since it seems relevant to the main site: Is it okay for a supervisor to require students to seek permission before publishing?. – badroit May 13 '14 at 17:08
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    @badroit - One thing to keep in mind here: Jeff's answers are simply Jeff's answers. When dealing with a meme, you must ignore upvotes; they're simply people piggybacking on his catchphrase. He is giving you his opinion, and you can take it or leave it, as you would any other advice. You are more than free to disagree, as are the people who read his advice. – eykanal Aug 12 '14 at 16:04
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    What @eykanal said. – JeffE Aug 15 '14 at 12:53
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Actually, "don't walk—run" is a shorthand for a different situation, in my opinion:

"Don't walk. Run." is a signal that the questioner is in a situation where the status quo is completely unsustainable.

Such situations are usually ones where things have deteriorated to the point where leaving is likely a better option than just "toughing things out."

So perhaps a little bit of caution is in order before using the line, but I wouldn't say it is always unacceptable.

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    This, exactly. It's the unfortunate truth that there are occasional situations where the outcome is almost guaranteed to be trouble. While Jeff's catchphrase has turned into a meme, when used appropriately it conveys the sense that something is seriously wrong with whatever is happening. – eykanal May 11 '14 at 2:07
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    I like the classification in SNAFU, TARFUN and FUBAR. For me, SNAFU means: "keep working", TARFUN means: "you should take immediate, decisive and careful actions" and FUBAR means: "no matter what you do, you are screwed up, update your CV". The difference is that these codes are meant to be used in reports, not answers (not exactly the same thing). – Trylks Jun 16 '14 at 10:55
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Initially I liked the Don't walk. Run! line. However, it may be more fun as an inside joke for the Academia.SE community than for the person who is experiencing the problem.

Imagine when an already confused student or young researcher gets such comment. Is it that helpful and actionable? Especially as academic market is not very flexible and typically you can't start a new position the next day (or have savings to get you past unemployment). Also, as recommendation letters are crucial, in many cases enduring outright mistreatment might be "the lesser evil" to burning bridges. (I don't say it should work that way, but we are dealing with real, not idealized, academia.)

So for Don't walk. Run! (for anything below an advisor asking a student for their kidney) now my immediate though is Great! But how and where?.

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    Also, as recommendation letters are crucial, in many cases enduring outright mistreatment might be "the lesser evil" to burning bridges. — I take it as written that if your advisor is mistreating you, he is not going to write you a useful letter of recommendation. – JeffE May 12 '14 at 13:44
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    Things move slowly in academia, so "run" may mean "start seeking position for the next academic year if you want to stay in academia". – StasK Jun 6 '14 at 3:08
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I agree with aeismail's answer, in that "Don't walk. Run." somehow indicates that if you've reached this point, the problem is unlikely to be fixed.

However, a disclaimer I'd like to add on the site:

Don't follow advice from strangers on the Internet

I think Ac.SE should be seen not as a place to get advice, but as a place to receive objective answers. Most questions where Jeff's catchphrase applies usually correspond to bad/dysfunctional relationships between advisor and advisee.

Of course, the problem can be cultural (that's just the way we do it here) and there can be strong constraints (I have invested so much, I cannot leave now), but I honestly think that in such cases, there is no good answer from strangers on the Internet. We should probably have a template answer: Talk to you advisor; Talk to a mentor; Talk to the administration; Talk to colleagues; Talk to a lawyer; Talk to a psychologist/therapist; Talk to your family and friends; Talk to anybody who has a good understanding of the particular situation you are in. Don't listen to people who are 10.000km from you, in a different system and a different culture.

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I know this is old, but I'll focus on OP's last paragraph, and propose a work around.

Folks using this meme should have some respect for the fact that they're advising another human being to quit their job/studies ... and they should keep in mind that they are simultaneously communicating with thousands of vulnerable people from a variety of areas who see such questions and who might project themselves as being in similar situations.

I agree that the meme doesn't become clear right away to total newbie's on the site. It takes a while to get acquainted. And while Jeff is not aiming to patronize, his remark his well intended, it can potentially be misread.

The easiest resolution is to post Don't Walk, Run, as Don't Walk, Run, i.e. link to this post.

This will serve three purposes at once:

1 The meme doesn't get killed.

2 The context and underlying intention becomes clear even to first timers.

3 Possibility of anyone taking offense gets eliminated.

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I read "Don't walk. Run." as an acknowledgement that the difficult situation described in the question is drastically wrong and needs to be addressed quickly. As the answers to the questions often eventually point out, the correct "answer" is rarely to quit then and there. The key to the "Don't walk. Run." meme is that it is saying: your interpretation is correct and there is a problem you need to go talk to a trusted colleague NOW instead of waiting for answers (but it is using a lot less words).

Now the question becomes how do new users who are potentially inexperienced academics interpret a highly up voted "Don't walk. Run." If they are quitting their jobs, we have a problem, but if they are seeing it as encouraging comment then it is serving its purpose. As I have never seen an OP question the meme, I don't think we have a problem.

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    I think the second paragraph is the more important part of the discussion ... I know that regulars here have some context for the comment, but taken out of context even once by a non-regular (not just by an OP but by someone reading the question) could have a major impact. Oftentimes the use seems justified, but on the other hand situations are never that simple and we only ever have one side of a story. – badroit May 11 '14 at 20:30
  • I was just told this phrase, and it has been one of the most encouraging phrases throughout the entire process of me choosing to go for another supervisor. So, perhaps it has used its purpose with me. I know that my environment is toxic and immoral, but hearing it online from a community serves some validation that I can't get so easily in real life. – User293727 Nov 9 '17 at 19:19
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I've always understood it to mean "Don't walk to wherever you need to go to deal with this, run!", i.e., a pithy way of stressing the urgency of the situation; it was only by reading this question that I became aware of the possible interpretation of "Don't walk out, run away!"

Now, internet communication is a narrow-bandwidth medium, internet comments doubly so; hence that subtlety might get lost. I think having this discussion is already quite helpful -- now whenever JeffE leaves his trademark comment, and someone is afraid that it can be misunderstood, they can give a link to this Meta post explaining the implied (or to be inferred) meaning and demonstrating that it's not (just) a snarky comment.

(Being able to give a link to an accepted consensus answer as a sort of FAQ entry would be even better.)

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    This is interesting because conversely I never read the comment as "Don't walk (to wherever you need to go to deal with this), run!". I always read it as "Don't walk (out), run (away)!" – badroit May 11 '14 at 20:22
  • I would agree with Christian - the meaning that people are apparently assuming here is alien to me. "Don't walk, run..." to me is an intensifier with positive overtones rather than a warning to get out fast - if I was given this response to a question of, say, "should I take this job", barring any other context, I'd read it as a rather strangely worded but emphatic yes - "Don't walk, run, [to sign up]!" – Andrew May 12 '15 at 11:22
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It's not a constructive comment: i.e. it doesn't seek clarification on the question.

So when you see it, flag it as non-constructive.

This should get the comment deleted, when the flag is reviewed. Comments are ephemeral here (just as across almost all Stack Exchange sites), and need little reason for deletion. A single flag prompting it should, in almost all cases, be sufficient.

If your flags get declined, then come back to meta and post about it, and we'll discuss moderation policy.

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    I'm not sure it's a candidate for flagging but perhaps this is what this discussion is here to find out. I think I'm mainly advocating some consideration of how it might be interpreted. (At least I know that I too sometimes post non-constructive comments.) – badroit May 11 '14 at 20:25

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