Thursday, May 12, 2005

Good impressions, they're harder than they look

Rory, a Yale sophmore and aspiring journalist, scores an internship at a local newspaper. Her task, shadowing the publisher and learning the ropes. After a rocky start, she seems to be getting along well with her coworkers, pleasing her boss, and figuring things out. Then the publisher offers to give her some feedback, sits her down, and tells her that he has a pretty good instinct about people, and he doesn't think she has what it takes to make it in journalism. He doesn't see her inserting herself into meetings and conversations, and therefore thinks that she doesn't have the gut to really go after a story. To make her feel better, he then tells her that he may have saved her a lot of trouble.
If that sounds like the plot of this week's Gilmore Girls episode, then we share similar tastes in TV. But I think there is something to be learned from the anecdote, because I think I've found myself in Rory's situation before. Even today, when my advisor and I hosted a visiting professor, I found myself being Rory, sitting on the sidelines and not fully engaged in the converstation. And this was a professor that I had specifically asked to meet with, one that I had been contemplating as a potential post-doc mentor.

So why did Rory fail at her internship? Maybe she didn't understand what was expected of her. Maybe she thought her role was to observe, not participate. Maybe she lacked the self-confidence to put herself out there in a public, professional situation. Maybe what the publisher was evaluating her on was her ability to be a business executive, not the ability to write a great article.

So why did I feel like Rory today? Sometimes the conversation was about things which I was not involved, sometimes it moved so quickly that by the time I thought of something to add, it had already moved on, and sometimes it was just so interesting to hear what the visitor and the prof had to say, that I was enjoying listening. But now I am left wondering whether I may have a left a less than stellar impression on our visitor. What will he think of me? Will he think that I am technically competent in my narrow field, but not able to tackle big picture problems or apply ideas to other places? Will he think that I am probably smart enough, but not out-going enough to succeed in a field where who you know can be almost as important as what you know? (yes, it's still a good ole boys club) Will he even remember me in a year?

To some extent, it doesn't matter what this guy thinks of me, I've decided that he's a bit too chemistry oriented for me. And you know how much I'm chemistry averse. But someday soon, I hope to be talking to potential post doc advisors or colleagues in departments where I hope to teach, and then it will be crucial to make a good impression. I don't want to end up like Rory.


Writer Chica said...

Chemistry is cool! :)

I don't worry about you, Sciencewoman. You have the skills, the experience, and the ambition to do and be what you want to be. Anyone who is blind to that probably isn't worth your time anyway.
Some of my most frustrating and hated moments were during my lab meetings. It seemed that it mattered less what you said than who said the most (no matter how rambling) and said it the loudest. It was a very rude oppressive environment. I hope you don't experience that.
Enough about me. As far as meeting with profs/collegues in the future, try to see them individually first. Make a connection before being in a group situation. Also, and I'm sure you are well aware of this, be hyper-prepared so the conversation has less of a chance of getting away from you. And I think you should feel free to bring the conversation back to a point you wanted to make a comment about.
As for Rory, she should tell that publisher to go shove it. He probably has his own issues.

ScienceWoman said...

Aha. But what if the publisher was Rory's boyfriend's father? This is a good TV show after all, and there are always multiple layers of complexity.