Careers: The one paragraph summary

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Ideally, we would all like to get jobs at large research universities where people are allowed to focus on their one particular speciality and where we are within a community of scholars who can recognize and celebrate our work. But the reality is that the majority of jobs are at small state colleges and liberal arts colleges where departments are small (three to four people) and you have to be a generalist.

That also means that your hiring committee will most likely be generalists. Often, faculty from other departments may participate in the search. These people may not know why your research is so critical to the understanding of one small aspect of social structure in XYZ-land. You may be the newest leading scholar in ABC microstudies, but they will not know what the significance of this is.

What they will want to know is why is your research important to anthropology (or whatever your discipline is). This is also the same question that grant and post-doc committees will have about your research. If you want to have research funds and a job, you do need to think at some point what your fundamental contributions to the field are.

Business entrepreneurs talk about the "elevator speech" that they have to give to venture capitalists. Basically, you can have the most brilliant idea imaginable, but if you can't distill it down to the 30 seconds it takes to get from the first floor to the 30th floor where the VC works, you're out of luck.

Graduate students need to polish their own elevator speech. Try to distill the essence of your work into a one-paragraph summary that can be understood by others outside of your topical/regional speciality.  This is the equivalent of the 30 second sound-bite. I know it might go against the very grain of your spirit (ie, that you believe your topic is so complex and nuanced as to resist succinct summarization), but it is a critical part of the job search process.

Your cover letter is one place where a one paragraph summarization of your research will really become necessary. Polish it, polish it some more, make sure it is interesting and jargon free. Ask senior faculty at your department to vet it. Get as much feedback as you can. If you get invited for an on-campus interview, you'll find that that paragraph will define who you are, so you want it to stand out as much as you can.

Remember that you will need to "spin" the summary slightly differently depending on where you are applying. Be flexible about it and develop variations on the theme. For example, you might have one summary that focuses on your regional speciality and another that focuses on your topical speciality -- depending on whether the opening is for a "XYZ-land" specialist or someone who does ABC-studies.

[Read other articles on Careers in Anthropology]

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on April 25, 2005 9:32 AM.

Careers: Don't give up hope in job searches was the previous entry in this blog.

Blog: Frank and Dixon in Nepal is the next entry in this blog.

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