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On self-promotion

Posted by Melissa on September 13, 2010

Women in the Wetlands is running a series of posts about self-promotion (here, here, and here, with more to come). It’s an interesting series, discussing the importance of self-promotion to success in the sciences, but reading the posts made me squirm. I hate the need to self-promote, and recently I’ve had to confront my dislike of self-promotion once again. Why? My tenure prospectus was due today, a document that necessarily involves both self-evaluation and self-promotion.

James Lang’s Chronicle column from many years ago came to mind. He wrote, “For me, and I bet for many other academics, the need in such [review] documents to trumpet my work confidently — to argue why I am the best person for the job, or for continued employment, or for tenure and promotion, or for a course reduction, or for a grant, or a publisher — never stops feeling like shameless self-promotion.”

Lang’s column was first pointed out to me when I was in grad school and struggling with my extreme dislike of self-promotion. By necessity, I have become better at it with time, but I’m always concerned that I will cross the fine line from productive self-promotion to obnoxious self-promotion.

When I was working on my prospectus, a friend asked a simple question, “Does it sound like you?”

My answer, “Sort of.”

Reading my prospectus, I recognize the essence of my professional self, but it’s a document written in a voice I would never choose to use were it not required by the circumstances. For some, self-promotion comes naturally, but for those of us who aren’t so lucky, we continually face an uncomfortable reality that career success depends on how well we assume the ill-fitting mantle of self-promotion.

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