Friday, February 10, 2006

Attempts at improvements

Two topics today, that have only the one thing in common: improvements.

Topic #1: my eye doctor tells me I should seriously consider getting Lasik. My parents have been after me for years to do this, since I always hated wearing glasses (when you start wearing them in 3rd grade, you have a lot of years to hate them). So I was hunting around for a surgeon and found this disturbing site, which made me think, uh, I'm either going to put it off a while longer, or make damn sure I don't see any of the doctors listed on this page.

Topic #2: After some discussion with my advisor, who is feeling down on herself due to grant stress and my lack of interviews, we've decided to work on revising her recommendation letter since it's a little out of date now, and there are still a few more ads coming out. Then I was talking to a young prof who just started here, and I realized probably my problem is that the people writing my letters, while they think I'm good, are not prone to hyperbole. The story goes that they have to be effusive to the extreme, that the letter literally has to be over the top emphasizing how great you are. And that you have to SELL SELL SELL! your system.

I'm writing this blog as much because I think the unwritten rules of how to get a faculty positions should be written down somewhere, as because I find them all so baffling.

So, here goes:

Dear Search Committee,

I am great. I am the greatest thing ever, I walk on water. You will never have the chance to hire someone else like me, because there is no one else like me, so if you miss this chance, like those people who passed over Barbara Streisand when she was just starting out, YOU WILL BE SORRY.

Not only do I have better-than-perfect vision, thanks to my successful Lasik surgery, but I use my eyes to see things no one else has seen (see Albert Szent-Györgyi quote). I then use my incredible mind to think what no one else has thought. I'm thinking it right now. But I won't tell you what it is unless you ACT NOW and HIRE ME.

I can turn your department's garbage into gold. Most importantly, all the experts in my field, all over the world, agree that I am the best at what I do. Experts outside my field know who I am, I am that good.

The reason you didn't know who I was until now is either because a) you live under a rock or b) I chose to remain in the shadows until the timing was right to reveal my great abilities to you. Now you can thank your lucky stars I chose you, and your department, to apply to. This is your big chance to have a future Nobelist in your midst.

Ready, set, HIRE ME!!


At 8:17 PM, Blogger ArticulateDad said...

Yeah, I remember years ago (second year of my doctoral program) my dissertation chair (I can't really call him my advisor, since, although I still like him quite a bit, his advice has nearly always been spare, the result of continuous pestering, and infrequent) suggesting that perhaps I didn't get some grant I had applied for that year, because another one of my reference letter writers (the "outside reader" on my committee) wasn't well-enough versed in the hyperbole common to my discipline.

Well, you keep walking on water, and I'll try to learn the trick.

At 10:43 PM, Anonymous BWJones said...

Regarding LASIK, you might be interested in this post on my blog.

At 12:22 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

yeesh, 'hyperbole common to my discipline'. There's a phrase that will give you chills.

BWJones, thanks so much for that post! Now I'm thinking maybe PRK would be better for me. One of my friends had a complication- essentially a dislocated cornea, I think she said- after having Lasik, and it sounded really horrific. Needless to say, I'm not taking this lightly. I just feel stupid now that I had never realized you were an eye expert!

At 3:57 PM, Anonymous Polly Anna said...

YFmS: I think working on your advisors letter of reference is a productive avenue. However, it has got to come across as sincere and leap out and grab reader’s general attention over the large majority of similar letters. For that matter, look ahead to picking a good reference letter writer outside your advisor for the long term future. You should have done this in picking an advisor and when you started the business. This will especially be important once you nail a position and need outside letters for promotion.

Nurture potential writers of letters of reference early on and at every opportunity with the unique aspects of yourself way ahead of time. I don’t mean kissing ass, but nurturing a potential letter writer’s sincere impression of you so that when the time comes they can be honest.

At meetings, find a way to introduce yourself to people and start a good sincere conversation, lay out your potentially wild scientific ideas related to their work. Poster sessions mixed with social events are perfect. No one will go ga-ga especially senior people at the moment, it’s an ego thing, but just in case they might be an important one, they might remember you.

I can’t believe your advisor is so passive in helping you even if he/she is not that confident either. Your apparent approach to responding to national ads and announcements are as you have said previously largely to satisfy equal opportunity and bureaucratic rules (not all, I am still Polly Anna and believe in the goodness in all things however unfair or hypocritical they might seem!!!).

What about a letter writing campaign by your advisor to places you would like to work? Take charge of the situation, instead of waiting for the trickle down. Not the anonymous bulk emails mainly the Indian computer whizzes and other Asians have learned to compile, but something personal and sincere tailored for that department.

Back to the letter from advisor or other references, it needs something personal, some anecdote, maybe humorous, but with limits to show the composite characters you think the search committee, or the kaahuna that calls the shot on hires will note.

Something like “Dr. YFmS has taught me as much as I have taught her during her tenure as a member of our research team. Almost against my will, she came up with the idea to try (whatever manipulation of the 35000 gene products out there you thought of) new direction. In the end, she was right, it opened up a whole new avenue for our group. I am sure this will continue, she will be a team player, but an assertive one, always be looking for ways to overcome roadblocks in the department, whether they be scientific or administrative.”

Yours truly a true Polly Anna

P.S. Forget the LASIK if you are skeptical. Go to contacts, but experiment. The technology keeps improving at every level, you can manipulate what each eye sees, long, far, color tint, variations for day, night, for different purposes, convenience, etc. They are never permanent, you can adapt them to you, surgery is forever and your eyes will keep changing. Who knows, maybe we will have video and the internet in contacts one of these days.

At 6:30 PM, Anonymous BWJones said...

You should know that recovery from PRK takes a bit longer and there is more pain involved. Also, some claim that LASIK is actually a bit more "tunable".

At 11:03 AM, Blogger ScienceWoman said...

I really got a kick out of your "letter," I feel like that is what I am expected to do each time I write a cover letter for a job app.

At 9:54 PM, Blogger Ms.PhD said...

re: "You should have done this in picking an advisor and when you started the business. This will especially be important once you nail a position and need outside letters for promotion.

Nurture potential writers of letters of reference early on and at every opportunity with the unique aspects of yourself way ahead of time. I don’t mean kissing ass, but nurturing a potential letter writer’s sincere impression of you so that when the time comes they can be honest."

Yeah... the trick is, I've been choosing advisors based on my liking their science and thinking they have integrity. I haven't found anyone like that who is also connected enough to write me the kind of letter that will stop a search committee in their tracks.

But yes, I will see if I can convince my letter-writers to do a 'campaign' on my behalf, rather than simply writing the sincere, perhaps understated, type of letter they think is 'most professional.'

At 9:13 AM, Anonymous biosparite said...

Re Lasik, I have 20/10 vision at about a foot from my eyes, which is excellent for someone who likes to cozy up to rock sections in the field and carry out close-up examination of fossils, rare satmps and coins (there: Luis Alvarez was right: paleontologists, even amateur ones, are stamp collectors). I don't mind being nearsighted as my far vision with glasses is around 20/15. So I have decided Lasik is not for me. The near vision is far too valuable for me to tamper with. I guess it's a matter of one's needs.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger MissPrism said...

Great letter!

I got a fantastic tip from a senior woman - use the word "we". It's much easier for women, and shyer people in general, to heap praise on a team they're part of than to praise themselves as individuals.

Then, when your letter reads "We discovered x, we revolutionised the understanding of y, we can walk on water," go back and change as many "we"s to "I"s as you can bear.

Good luck in your search!

At 4:02 PM, Blogger dlamming said...

Ugg, Lasik. Is there some sort of actual reason to do this, or is it just cosmetic? I'm way too scared of someone messing with my eyes to ever do it.


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