Sunday, March 04, 2007

Maybe I should streak at the next conference

Over and over again we are told by our department that to get that top tenure track position, we should "Get Noticed." And yet, little is done to help students get noticed. To get noticed they advise: do groundbreaking research; attend lectures and ask smart questions; give interative talks at conferences; attend the same conferences year after year. So much advice. Very little action.

In a College of Engineering that consists of thousands, or at a conference that consists of hundreds, there's not much I alone can do to get noticed or, as one former faculty called it, "Create Buzz" My feeling is that there are things that a department can do to help its students get noticed. For example, as Crispin Taylor describes in his essay, "Heeding the Voices of Graduate Students and Post-Docs"

I did my PhD in a well-funded institute that many prominent scholars wished to visit. Moreover, the faculty encouraged the students to select and invite on seminar speaker each semester and to host that individual when she or he came to give the talk. Imagine our suprise when we learned that distinguished scholars were more inclined to accept a speaking invitation when it came from students!

Like Crispin notes later in his essay, informal, one-on-one conversations have significant value. The best experience I ever had at a conference was when I shared a 40 minute cab ride with one of the grandfathers of my field. Imagine the value if I were given the chance to pick up a lecturer from the airport, chat with them before a lecture, or take them out to dinner. Maybe then I could finally get that elusive "external member" for my committee.

I suggested this idea to my department leaders once. They replied with, "Oh but distinguished lecturers wouldn't answer your e-mail." Another kick in the head. Me talk booga-wooga crazy talk.

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Another good idea to help students get noticed comes from Ronald Breslow of Columbia University. He writes in his essay, "Developing Breadth and Depth of Knowledge,"

Scientists need to speak and write well. Graduate programs should make efforts to help their students develop these skills. For example, students should deliver several public seminars, both on their research and on topics from the research literature."

Even better, what about a "Senior Graduate Student Seminar" series in the department that students can take for credit? If I know what the senior graduate students are doing, I too can help them get noticed. Imagine if I'm at a conference, and the subject of databases comes up. I can say,

"Oh yes, there is Michael J. Rumpenstuff at my department. He's doing some fantastic work on databases! Maybe he could give an invited talk for your research group? Yeah? Here's his e-mail."

It's true that I present to my group about once every three weeks. But, during my presentations, for every minute I speak, my advisor speaks three. Admittedly, he's giving me feedback, but this isn't the same environment that I'll have when I'm giving a job talk. What if I suggested a "Senior Graduate Student Seminar" series in my department. Would it just be more of my booga-wooga crazy talk?

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From Alvin Kwiram,

There is today a serious mismatch between the nature and purpose of the doctoral degree and the demands and expectations of the academy. Imagine spending years training an athlete to learn the intricacies of playing football, and then once he finishes playing college call, assuming because he is a well-trained athlete he can immediately be appointed head coach. This is essentially what we do in the academy.


doc-in-training said...

Hi FemaleCSGradStudent, while we're on the subject, may I ask you a question? Have you drawn some unwanted attention while creating "buzz", e.g., jealousy, personal attacks? If so, how do you deal with the attacks? Thanks.

FemaleCSGradStudent said...

Hm. I'm not sure what you are asking. There's the random audience member that asks the evil personal attack question. There's the paper reviewer that says "My kids could write this." But your question mentions "jealousy" which makes me think something has hit you closer to home.

Personal attacks from strangers are brushed off. To that random guy in the audience,

"I agree with you that this work has the weaknesses you point out. But what you mention is somewhat out of the scope of this work. We are working to solve the ... problem."

Personal attacks from group members are trickier.

Feel free to e-mail me if you'd like to chat about this. femalecsgradstudent on da gmail.

doc-in-training said...

Thanks. Email sent.