Tuesday, March 07, 2006

The hardest part

As Academic Coach relates, in a comment to A three year plan: ...it is difficult to stay on track with work when you are working in relative isolation. A-yup. But that's not the hardest part.

Of the things that Dr. TassePlein said during our talk on Saturday, the deepest comment, which I might easily have ignored, regards the nature of my research itself. His question went something like this: Are you doing something that others consider of central importance?

I think of the post My department is dreaming of a wedding from about a month ago, over at In Favor of Thinking. In discussing one particular job candidate, she wrote:

...one of the visitors ... was so fantastic that we are all ... completely in love with him. He's smart, accomplished, thoughtful, energetic, nice, good-looking -- basically he seems like a completely amazing person, who's perfect for this position. Fantasies abound about how he will revolutionize the way we approach a certain area, how he will help us do more hires in the future, how he will be a wonderful resource and colleague...

Let's dissect that a bit. What made him so amazing (by the way, I wonder if they snagged him)?

Smart: okay, we're all smart. Check.
Accomplished: okay, more articles, more presentations, etc. Check.
Thoughtful: we're back to the smart again. It's not a matter here of objective features, but how we come across. Still nothing out of the ordinary it would seem.
Energetic: Sure, got that.
nice, good-looking: Well... I leave off on this one.

But here's the clincher, I'd think: he will revolutionize the way we approach a certain area.

Eureka! There's the bull's-eye. There's concensus that he represents something innovative and needed. She goes on: he will be a wonderful resource and colleague.

This is the secret ingredient: to come across as someone with something to give that everyone needs.

Now, one approach would be to chase the next big thing, like a gambler at the roullete wheel, trying to guess if red 7 or black 13 will come up next. Or to focus one's energies on whatever seems to be the current big thing.

That's not my approach. I know what I do. I love what I do. These are my questions. The trick for me, the task at hand, is to forge that something into something big, to create enough buzz for my area of research that everyone starts thinking about it, wondering about it, and wanting it on their campus, in their department.

In a sense it's no different from a business approach that says I'll focus on getting the public interested in my service, not on competing with other businesses. If everyone needs what we have to offer, there'll surely be enough work for everyone. It's like Academic Coach's comment cited above. She went on to remark: I would recommend hiring a coach to meet with at least occasionally. My own private practice is full, so this is not self-promotion.

So, in the midst of beefing up my academic street cred, I need to be building my area of research. And that's just exactly what I plan to do.


BrightStar said...

Thoughtfulness? Demonstrated here on this blog by you consistently.

I really think what some of us need are agents! I am convinced of this.

ArticulateDad said...

What an idea! I mean, actors have agents. Authors have agents. Why not academics? It makes me think of the whanau support system in Maori culture. I once applied for a job in New Zealand, where law or custom requires them to offer candidates the opportunity to bring along others to the interview who will speak on their behalf, describing the qualities they would bring to the job. I kind of like that idea. I wonder what Academic Coach will have to say about all this.