Monday, April 09, 2012

Academic Advice: Grad School, CV, Academic Talk, etc.

Grad school ...:

  1. An old post by Sean Carroll at Cosmic Variance: Unsolicited Advice: Part Deux. Choosing a Grad School [this and its predecessor post became a part of the discussion in this post just the other day]

    How prestigious is the school and the department? Prestige is something that is much more relevant (to the extent is is relevant at all) to your undergraduate school than your grad school. Not that it’s completely irrelevant, but the prestige of your advisor is more relevant than that of your department, which is much more relevant than that of the university as a whole. Of course, there are tight correlations between these different kinds of prestige, but they are not perfect.

    Although we had a debate about this in comments to the previous advice post [here's the link -- see the debate take off with the very first comment!], I still think that the identity of the school/department from which you get your Ph.D. is essentially irrelevant to ultimately getting hired as a faculty member. This is not some utopian perspective that we live in a perfect meritocracy in which where you come from doesn’t matter; rather, what matters is where you are doing your postdoc(s), not where you went to grad school. Of course, where you do your postdoc might be affected by where you go to grad school! But more important is who your advisor is.

  2. Ross McKenzie at Condensed Concepts: Should you work with a young turk or an old fart?

    ... old farts may offer you wisdom, experience, and stability. Hopefully, they have learnt from the mistakes they made when they were a young turk and are now more effective at picking good research topics, particularly ones suitable for students, and will produce publishable results in a reasonable time. They may also be able to quickly see dead ends and save you a lot of time. On the other hand, they may be stuck in a rut in an old research field and be getting distant from nuts and bolts technical details. ... [Bold emphasis in the original]

  3. My own take on choosing advisers: Just avoid the jerks.

    Bottomline: Do everything you can to figure out who the jerks are. And avoid them.

    Corollary: If it takes some time before you discover the jerk in your boss, it's never too late. Dump him/her immediately, and move on: change your adviser, university, field, line of work, whatever! Life is too short and precious to spend around nasty people.

Academic CV, academic talks, etc:

  1. Joshua Eyler in The Chronicle: The Rhetoric of the CV. What you put into (or omit from) your CV (and how it is crafted) says a lot about you; for example:

    Never include your graduate school GPA or the scores you received on your comprehensive examinations. Doing so amounts to a significant rhetorical blunder, because you are emphasizing your role as a student rather than as a future colleague. Don't worry: The rest of your materials will demonstrate your intellectual prowess. There is no need to undermine your candidacy by overtly calling attention to your grades.

  2. Cosma Shalizi: The Academic Talk: Memory and Fear:

    The point of academic talk is to try to persuade your audience to agree with you about your research. This means that you need to raise a structure of argument in their minds, in less than an hour, using just your voice, your slides, and your body-language. Your audience, for its part, has no tools available to it but its ears, eyes, and mind. (Their phones do not, in this respect, help.)

    This is a crazy way of trying to convey the intricacies of a complex argument. Without external aids like writing and reading, the mind of the East African Plains Ape has little ability to grasp, and more importantly to remember, new information. (The great psychologist George Miller estimated the number of pieces of information we can hold in short-term memory as "the magical number seven, plus or minus two", but this may if anything be an over-estimate.) Keeping in mind all the details of an academic argument would certainly exceed that slight capacity*. When you over-load your audience, they get confused and cranky, and they will either tune you out or avenge themselves on the obvious source of their discomfort, namely you.

    Therefore, do not overload your audience, and do not even try to convey all the intricacies of a complex academic argument in your talk. The proper goal of an academic talk is to convey a reasonably persuasive sketch of your argument, so that your audience are better informed about the subject, get why they should care, and are usefully oriented to what you wrote if and when they decide to read your paper.

  3. Female Science Professor at Scientopia: Promote Yourself:

    I think a key question is: What is the purpose of the self-promotion? Is it essential to your progression in your career; for example, making you more visible (as an early-career scientist) to those who might eventually write letters as part of your tenure evaluation? Is it important for your tenure evaluation that you give invited talks? Is it a way to develop new collaborations and recruit excellent grad students and postdocs (important for any career stage)? Or do you just generally want to be more famous in your obscure field?

    In my discussion, I will focus on strategies for self-promotion as an essential element of career development, not for hunger-for-fame purposes. I am also writing from my point of view as a non-extrovert. You do not have to be loud, talkative, sociable, aggressive, or even supremely self-confident to self-promote in the interest of career development.