One of the most important lessons learned during grad school is that the vast majority of literature is either incorrect, incomplete, and/or so limited in its applicability to be of little use. The same can be said of career advice, no matter how well-intended or hard-earned. As with literature, the trick—often only recognized in hindsight—is separating signal from noise and synthesizing new insights from multiple inputs plus the researcher’s own datasets, experience, perspective, and interests. As in research, outliers can be incredibly useful, pointing to a need to recast the question and/or reinterpret the data using a different model. They can also be distracting and frequently over-weighted during analysis. Unfortunately, a career is an experiment with too many variables and too few data points to be effectively optimized; fortunately, there are many paths to (and definitions of) a successful academic career.
With the above caveats in mind and far too much reliance on the life-as-an-experiment analogy, a case study involving a transition from a national lab to academia will be presented as a vehicle for discussing and interpreting advice and guidance that too often went unheeded. Your mileage may vary, and free advice is worth what you paid for it, but close inspection will hopefully enable the identification of useful needles of guidance from a haystack of clichés.