Getting noticed...

Jul 17 2015 Published by under Uncategorized NOT making sure your chair spots you at seminars in hopes that you're hired internally.

By now I presume you've read the train wreck of a "careers" article over at Science, puzzlingly titled "Getting noticed is half the battle" when in fact the bulk of the piece is dedicated not to tips on getting noticed per se, but on congratulating yourself for brown-nosing your superiors and abandoning your family to work 100 hrs a week. I guess that's the other half of the battle?

Sciwo at Tenure, She Wrote has a pretty thorough takedown of the myriad ways in which the article is wrong, dated, heteronormative, and straight up dangerous, so you should go read that. However, there is one thing I will give the author: getting noticed is important for career maintenance and advancement.

The $64,000 question, of course, is how do you get yourself noticed without looking like an arrogant peacock? I'm going to turn some of the specifics over to New PI for a moment, who pondered some of these questions a couple of years ago. She writes,

It is a constant struggle in my mind on when to shake those back feathers and fan that tail. Do I tout my own horn at every little accomplishment in my department? Should I remind people who invited me for talks in passing that I was invited? Do I walk up to important people at meetings and just introduce myself pitching my "awesome" research?...The purists hate this and complain to no end about how your science should speak for itself.

Now, YMMV, but my answers to these questions are: yes, yes, no, and don't even get me started. When you're TT, accomplishments of any size are evidence that you're moving forward, and I see nothing wrong with updating the news section of your lab website and sending your chair an email when something particularly good happens.

Second, You. Must. Give. Talks. If you're at a conference talking to a buddy in the poster session or at the bar and he casually throws out a "we really should have you down to Fancy University to give a seminar," say, "that would be great, thanks!" and then follow up with a quick email once you get back home that says "Awesome to see you last week! Looking forward to the possibility of a visit once you get your seminar schedule for next semester set." Or whatever! But giving talks not only gives you a captive audience for an hour, you get a whole day to visit a department and meet one-on-one with whatever fancy people they have there. These chats can lead to collaborations, grand, paradigm-shifting epiphanies, and perhaps most importantly - letters for your tenure packet.*

Getting your shmoozing in this way has the added benefit of relieving you of New PI's 3rd scenario - the cold pitch to bigwigs. Just don't do it. If you absolutely must meet Dr. SuperFancyPants, find someone you know to introduce you in a casual environment. Otherwise, your interaction is pretty much guaranteed to go like this:

Finally, and this is a no-brainer, put in a session proposal for every single conference you attend, which has several benefits. First, obviously if it gets accepted you are a total baller and will get noticed for being the rockstar who organized that panel everyone loved. Second, it could give you a reason to contact and build a relationship with Dr. FancyPants, if the conference is the kind that likes their panels to be a mix of senior and junior folks. Third, even if you don't get FancyPants shmoozing out of it, you will definitely get camaraderie with your contemporaries out of it, which can also lead to all sorts of career bonuses in both the long and short term. And finally, if it gets accepted, the conference will usually give you at the very least free registration, and at the very best free hotel and airfare. That is like COLD HARD CASH in your pocket, all because you sent a few emails and wrote a paragraph about how exciting your sub-sub-subfield is.

Above all, be a good scientist who is kind to others and enjoyable to be around, and trust me, you'll be noticed in all the right ways.

*not to mention that these people are on grant review panels and journal editorial boards!

15 responses so far

  • nickwan says:

    As a grad student, is there a "too early" to start the motions on the 2nd and the 3rd?

  • Dr Becca says:

    Nick, it is never too early to start making friends. Some of my colleagues and collaborators are people I met at conferences in my grad school days, and I can say that it is a pretty awesome feeling to invite each other for talks and put in conference symposia together now that we're all grown up!

  • potnia theron says:

    Nick, if you're going to organize a symposium as a grad student, I'd find a sympathetic other person (older?) and run it past them first. Actually, if you're a PD or a prof, I'd find a sympathetic other to run it past. Hugely hard to cope with if no one wants to be in your symposium.

  • The New PI says:

    Thank you so much for this! It's a constant concern when getting your lab "established" and it's a very fine line to walk to be visible in all the right ways. Organizing sessions at meetings is something I had been wondering about and this will give me the push to try. To this end I have a short story which will also illustrate how getting to know people casually at small meetings can be really good. I was at a small fancy meeting in the middle of the mountains and wanted to go for a hike. I was chatting with a well known professor who was also thinking about the same hike and we decided to go together. So we're walking, enjoying the scenery and chatting and she goes "I'm organizing this minisymposium at this upcoming meeting, would you like to speak?" "Of course, that would be wonderful!" When I got home I followed up, but the symposium didn't materialize. Now I think it would make sense to ask her to organize a session or something together since we work in a similar subfield.

  • @NeedhiBhalla says:

    Another thing I'd suggest, especially for grad students and post-docs, is to organize local meetings for your sub-field, taking into account potnia's advice to run the idea past someone more senior to make sure there is interest. Both ASCB ( and the GSA ( have set aside funds to support these meetings organized by trainees and they are great opportunities to meet and interact with leaders in your field. SMBE ( also supports something similar, although these do not need to be organized by trainees.

  • Zen Faulkes says:

    "You. Must. Give. Talks."

    Do you think this might create biases against some people because of where they are located? That is, do you think universities in high population density areas will make any kind of effort to invite speakers from far away? Or will they just invite people from nearby to cut costs?

    • Dr Becca says:

      Zen, I don't think it matters that much. Many departments have fairly healthy budgets for seminar series and the cost of some speakers' airfare will be balanced out by some speakers being able to drive themselves. To my knowledge, invites are primarily based on who the organizer wants.

      • drugmonkey says:

        Having been involved with a seminar series, I can assure you that not all of them have healthy budgets. We most assuredly had to balance a few long-distance travelers with local and regional (cheaper) talent for ours.

        Zen's point is spot on. If you are in a high density multi-Uni/Institute region you will get more opportunities on cost alone.

        • Newbie PI says:

          My personal experience would confirm this. I've been invited to give a seminar at several local (within 2-3 hours drive) universities and research hospitals, but have not yet been invited to any out of state departments. It's just really easy to get yourself invited for a seminar when it doesn't cost them anything. My own department generally just has an "extra" seminar when someone in our field starts working somewhat nearby.

        • Dr Becca says:

          Totally, and the idea that unis balance things out with local folks is what I tried (poorly) to get across in my comment. My point is if they want YOU but you require a plane ticket, they'll find someone local for the next one so they can afford you.

          Also - if you're not in a uni-dense area, make sure you make the most of what traveling you do. If you're going to a certain part of the country for a conference and you have friends at a nearby uni, let them know you're coming to town. They may be able to squeeze you into their seminar schedule, and since your plane ticket is already covered, all they have to do is give you a night at a hotel. Everybody wins!

          FWIW, I'd say that I'm in a uni-dense area, but I've only given 2 dept seminars here, and 10 that required a plane ticket.

    • Bashir says:

      It seems to me that people who grad school in cities with lots of universities, say Boston and SF metros, do have an opportunity to be noticed by locals. For example, both SF and Boston have formal groups for neuroscience folks. So the BU grads get to chat with the MIT profs, etc. It's definitely different than being in a small college town hundreds of miles from the next university.

  • Ryan says:

    This is all really fantastic advice. I would only add one thing: review papers and conference abstracts when asked to do so. I recently was invited to speak at a conference that I felt was quite above my current rank and pay grade. When I asked the organizer later on about how they settled on inviting me as a more junior person, she said that it was all of the things mentioned above, but also the fact that I'd been willing to review papers for her when she was on the Editorial Board of a journal in my field. Apparently, finding good reviewers can be challenging, and the fact that I was willing to review helped me to stand out. I think this fits under Dr. Becca's "be a good citizen" advice, but I wanted to mention it specifically.

  • Namesaste_Ish says:

    You failed to address the most obvious do I get people to notice I work 100+ hour weeks? With an article in Science Careers? Do you have a contact there?

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