Wednesday, 26 August 2015

On Self-Promotion

I'm starting to think self-promotion is the most important skill taught at universities. You know, right after the harsh social environments of middle and high school convince you that nobody cares about how special you are and that the safest thing to do is be like everyone else, you start getting letters from schools asking you to convince them that you are important as an individual and that it's worth their while to spend money on you specifically. That's the entrance exam. Once you get in, you start practicing how to write grant applications and job applications and posters and academic essays, all of which have the end goal of "getting your name out there" so you can make some money and/or gain some recognition that will get you more money and/or recognition down the line.

I was going to spend some time in this post dwelling on the irony of this, but all it really boiled down to was that my experience in middle and high school sucked, and I sat down to write this post about happy things. So here goes.

Through the process of applying to and attending both undergrad and grad school, I've started to learn how to make important people aware of my personal abilities and achievements. To my surprise, I've begun to do that successfully on Twitter. I never thought Twitter would be a useful professional platform. I laughed when, as part of a summer job at a publishing company, I found out that I'd be required to create a Twitter account for promotional events. And for the most part I use my Twitter account to talk to people I've met through other online communities.

But--and here's the important thing about Twitter--everyone is on it. Including potential employers. Including the big names in my field. And that is how I found myself yesterday tweeting about an episode of the linguistics podcast Lexicon Valley with Ben Zimmer, a prominent lexicographer and regular contributor to the podcast. I'm not going to tell you what we talked about, because this morning the answers to the questions I'd asked him appeared in a post on Language Log, a language blog to which Zimmer contributes. That post was written by a colleague of his who I cited extensively in the research papers I wrote to finish up my Chinese major.

But this was not the only instance of "getting my name out there" that happened today. My school's graduate admissions office asked me and a couple other students to fill out a student life questionnaire for their website a couple weeks ago, and that just finally went up. I'm pretty sure my life is not typical of the graduate students here, but I'm glad they think my opinion is worth including.

I don't know if I can give any advice for making people think your opinion is worth including in things, or that your questions are good enough to blog about, or that they should give you a job or a scholarship. I'm aware that there's a balance between overpromoting and underselling yourself, but I don't know exactly where that is. My strategy right now is just to listen to what people have to say and respond intelligently. And if you don't respond intelligently and someone important corrects you, be gracious. Thank you for their help. That way they'll remember you positively. Which is, after all, the goal of self-promotion.

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