Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Aptitude vs. Accomplishment

I've been having a strange experience lately. It involves getting a lot of weird looks.

What else is new, right? But this one has nothing to do with being female, I don't think.

So I'm working on a few different things right now, but most of them involve writing. I've been soliciting feedback on my writing from a variety of people, for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's useful, sometimes it's not, but I'm figuring out who to ask, which advice to take, and which to ignore.

But lately I'm doing revisions, lots of revisions, and I keep getting this weird look. I think it's a look of, "Wow, you actually took my advice and ran with it!"

I think the problem is that people don't see me as a diamond in the rough, someone who might not know but who is ultimately teachable. Maybe they're just complacent, they're used to having someone come in with a draft and then the next draft isn't much better no matter how carefully they give their suggestions?

Maybe it's just a case of low expectations.

I'd like to think that one of my better qualities is my ability to learn new things. I'm not a genius by a long shot. I'm pretty good at figuring out what's interesting to work on, but I'm not a natural at the professional stuff.

But if I can get some idea about what I need to improve, I usually do.

So I'm amused by these looks. I like surprising people in good ways. I just wish we could figure out how to get the search committees to look for aptitude instead of accomplishment.

You can argue until doomsday that whatever you did in your thesis lab was mostly because of your advisor, and that even a lot of postdocs aren't nearly independent enough (for a variety of reasons). But that all has to do with accomplishments.

It just reminds me of this phrase I ran across in a book about women and negotiating, where they said that men are judged on their potential, while women are judged on their accomplishments. I'm not sure how true this is, because I think most everyone would agree that you have to have a helluva lot of accomplishments to get a faculty position nowadays, male or female. But it was such an interesting idea to me, because it's really hard to judge potential. Isn't it?

I mean, they've revamped the SAT a lot lately, but I still know plenty of people, old and young, whose scores don't remotely represent their abilities or aptitude. And for the older folks, it's very clear that their SAT scores didn't remotely predict their future accomplishments.

Let's try not to be prisoners of our past accomplishments, or lack thereof.


At 7:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is an interesting point. I know LOTS of postdocs who don't have an independent thought in their head. But they come in, get lots of guidance (in fact are treated like technicians in many ways), do what they're told, and get great publications very quickly. They look a lot better on paper than the independent postdocs who refuse to be treated as techs, do their own work, and struggle because they aren't getting much guidance. Aren't these the people who should be advancing in their careers??? It seems the system is skewed towards people who get their hands held.


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