Friday, August 25, 2006

Selling Yourself

I've been meaning to write about selling one's self...it was going to be a good way to procastinate and put off writing a couple proposals, but unfortunately I got too busy. For those that missed it, that's my dry humor.

Coincidentally there are other posts today on selling yourself. Doug is talking about people promising the moon in grant applications. And Chad is posting his CV in prep for coming up for tenure. I think people might be more interested in seeing his research and/or teaching statements...the majority of career advice questions I get concern those two statements.

Anyway, so when you apply for a job, you have to sell yourself. When you apply for a grant you have to sell yourself. Some of you are going "duh!" so don't read. Others are going "why?" Those are my "peeps" (did I spell that correctly hipsters?).

So, say you've got lots of papers, done really well, and feel like you've been very meritorious. Why do you have to sell yourself. There are two main reasons. The first is that there are plenty of people with lots of papers whom you may not want to be around. In other words, it's tough to tell how good someone is. Maybe the papers are of no consequence, or come from a single line of research. Or maybe they were in collaborations in which you played little role.

The other reason is that no matter how good you might be at using Backlund Transformations to find new solutions to certain equations, people may not care about that ability and very likely don't care to fund it.

So start early. Don't go overboard, but know a good way to motivate why someone should take interest in the work you do. I've never really learned to do this, and you know what they say about old dogs. Don't be an old dog. Oh, there's very common advice you might hear, and I can hardly believe I'm about to say this, but ...."elevator speech."

I'll end by mentioning that theoretical physicist Janna Levin "acquitted herself quite well" (as they say) on the Colbert Report last night (although I could have used a bit less of the nervous laughter). It's not on YouTube yet, but I'm sure Chad or Steinn will have a link soon enough. There's no way I could have done that well on TV.

Finally, there's some talk on the blogs today about how students should address you. I think two more practical questions are: (1) How do you enforce whatever choice you make? (2) How do you sign your email consistent with this choice? Say you want to be call Professor Brainiac, do you really sign your email "Professor Brainiac"? I can't bring myself to do that....it's akin to my aversion to referring to myself in the third person which means I'm not suited for reality television.

6 comments:

Chad said...

And Chad is posting his CV in prep for coming up for tenure. I think people might be more interested in seeing his research and/or teaching statements...the majority of career advice questions I get concern those two statements.

I'll probably post those later, but they're not done yet. The teaching statement is on a final draft, but the research statement is only halfway through the first draft.

I could probably dust off and post the statements I used for my reappointment review three years ago, but that would probably lead to Statement Overload...

Anonymous said...

Of course you have to "sell yourself:" other people, usually taxpayers, are paying for your work. Scientists need an "elevator speech" prepared just in case one of the dumb schmucks footing the bill has questions.

Quietly being a genius and hoping that other people will notice has never been a smart career strategy, although I wonder if communication skills are more important now than in the past. The importance of subsidiary skills was thrashed out recently in _Physics Today_ in the "Will there ever be another Einstein?" discussion.

Alison Chaiken said...

The comment above was mine. I forget to enable Jscript and clicking "preview" cleared the attribution fields. Time for more coffee.

Angry said...

AC: Well, I'm one of those for whom this was not obvious, but certainly many people know it early on. As for "dumb schmucks," not sure from your tone if you're chastising an attitude of mine you think you perceive, but, as misanthropic as I might be, don't think that way. I appreciate interest, but generally don't find it. Even family barely care.

As for bad "career strategy" I think that's the rub. For many, physics was never a career until you defended. For me, physics was a vise I couldn't shake.

Alison Chaiken said...

As for "dumb schmucks," not sure from your tone if you're chastising an attitude of mine you think you perceive,

No, just making general comments. I'm trying to make a distinction between an elevator speech, which I think is important, and hype, which I fulminated mightily over at Doug's blog.

I appreciate interest, but generally don't find it.

Well, me too. In recent years I've come to realize how many people don't express interest because they are intimidated. If you meet people halfway by volunteering simple information about what you do, a lot more folks will express interest.

Even family barely care.

When Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman was on the N.Y. Times bestseller list, I tried and failed to get my family members to read it. After all, SYJMF was very funny and had no equations. Their unwillingness to even look at the book still stings. My parents were getting divorced at the time so I guess they had other matters on their minds.

Gordon Watts said...

The elevator speech is required, I think. I end up giving variations of it all the time -- mostly friends. And I have a version that works well after 2 beers, and one after 7... ;-) (it is all in the eye brows).

I realize this is a small thing, but I'm interested in the "how do you get students to address you" thing. When I teach undergraduate I make my students call me "Professor Watts" and I sign all my email to them "Prof. Watts". As soon as they are out of my class then can call me by my first name. I have often wondered if that will change as I grow older...