The narrative version of your scientific life

At xBio I heard a great talk by Gordon Mitchell, the Comroe lecture. The lecture, about respiratory plasticity and apnea was great. It was not my area, so I was also listening on a more meta-level. What Mitchell did was give the history of his scientific development. Being able to do this is a good skill, and I tweeted so.

Enter, the inestimable Dr. Becca who said “this is how I approached my TT job talks”.  So we’re writing this together – a double dose of advice. It’s good for talks, but it is also incredibly important for any pre-tenure mentoring meetings, and a near necessity for tenure documents.

Doc Becca:

I arranged to practice my TT job talk in front of some folks from my post-doc department, and as was customary for my talks until that day, at the bottom of the title slide I had “Dr Becca, advisor’s lab, post-doc Institution.” Before I even got a chance to begin speaking, one of the newer TT profs in the audience said, “Take your advisor’s name off this slide. This talk is about YOU.” This was some of the best advice I ever got in preparation for my interviews. This WAS about me. It’s the Me Show! It is not about me representing my mentor anymore. That tiny change helped me frame the whole talk to be about my journey, not just my data. I took my audience through the thought processes that led from my graduate work to my post-doc, and then how I used my post-doc work to carve a niche for myself in my field. And I guess I did a pretty convincing job, because I got offers from both departments that interviewed me. When search committees interview job candidates, they’re looking for someone who knows who they are and what they’re going to do with their careers- not just someone who’s done some stuff in some fancy labs. Your job talk is your narrative, just like your tenure packet statements will be your narrative in another 6 years’ time. Do you know what your story is, where it’s going?

Back to Potnia:

At my MRU there is a letter that goes in with your CV for your tenure or promotion package. Its called the Dean’s letter cause the chair signs it  and addresses it to the Dean (who may or may not ever read it. There is a school wide committee who certainly will). The chair may sign it, but by and large the candidate writes it.

This letter is the narrative of what you have done. It needs to include ideas and data and references to papers you have published. For an assoc prof, its at least 5 single spaced pages, and for full its nearer to 10. Crafting this letter is a skill, and one that you can’t start too sooWhat does it look like? It is the story, the narrative. It fills in the gaps in the CV.

To wit:

As a postdoc, I was  in the world’s foremost bunny hopping lab. When I moved to MRU, I  started a new program in chinchilla hopping. The first 2 papers I published developed the chinchilla model, and demonstrated the ways  in  which chinchillas were different from bunnies, and the interesting biomechanical and ecological consequences of chinchilla hopping. This led me to do field work on chinchillas in South American and my paper XYZ is an ecological study of chinchilla hopping in their natural setting, something that was unknown until I did this work. While I was there, the chinchillas all  started losing one leg. I first studied one legged hopping in collaboration with Dr. Jose BigWhig, an expert in chinchilla bacterial 8leg disease. Working with Dr. BigWhig, we published papers X3, X4 and X5. I was  responsible for all the biomechanics, but also learned a great deal about bacterial leg disease. When a similar outbreak occurred in North American bunnies, I was able to document that this was the same bug as infected the chinchillas. In fact, it is likely that I was responsible for the transfer of this bug because the outbreak occurred shortly after my return from South America. In my papers Y1 and Y2  I did both the biomechanics and the bacterial disease analyses for the North American bunnies.

This para shows: 1) independnce from postdoc advisor, 2) growth of abilities 3) collaboration and 4) new program.   If this was for real, there would be references to students who worked on the projects, papers presented at meetings, grants etc. Its woven into a timeline of the history and intellectual development.




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