At the interview for my new #alt-ac job, there was only one question that really threw me for a loop. After the Associate Dean asked it, I looked down at my hands. I paused, for more than a second. I might even have blushed. The question?
“Tell me what your peers would say the best things are about you as a researcher and a colleague.”
Maybe the question shouldn’t have surprised me. Is this the new “Tell us about your strengths /weaknesses”? Maybe those of you who are on hiring committees know. But interview pressure or no, this is a hard question to answer. Because as women–and especially as female academics–we are taught that to speak highly of ourselves, to speak strongly about our strengths, to shine light on our positive accomplishments and qualities, is braggy. Not humble. Unbecoming. Immodest. As Lee puts it,
Good Female Academics are mild and quiet and work away at their jobs, hoping to get noticed, but well aware that any attempt at blowing their own horn will be met with derision and dismissal….This is the message we’re sent as girls and as women. To believe in ourselves is arrogant, unfounded, untrue.
So to be asked to do just that, to blow my own horn, even in an interview–which is explicitly an exercise in presenting a public, polished, and promotional version of oneself–was really hard. It felt not unlike realizing that I’d left the house pantsless. And especially hard because of the way the question was phrased. Not only was I being asked to speak positively about myself, but I was being asked to do so on behalf of others–not just to think highly of myself, but to own that others thought highly of me too, and to speak in for them.
I was lucky that I’d already established a good rapport with the interview panel by that point, and so I could laugh about how difficult being asked to answer that question was as I formulated an answer. I told them about qualities and achievements that I thought my colleagues appreciate in me–my work to build opportunities for teamwork and skills development among graduate students, my attempts to create forums where my peers could showcase their research, my ability to effectively coordinate large groups of people and projects with lots of moving parts, the great parties I throw–but it was uncomfortable. It’s uncomfortable repeating it here. But I’m doing it, because I don’t think that we, as female academics, will stop feeling like self-promotion–even self-belief–is unbecoming, immodest, or arrogant unless we keep doing it: talking about what we’re good at. Celebrating our accomplishments. Making others aware of our work. Sharing our knowledge publicly. Convincing others that our voices need to be part of the conversation. This is what CWILA is doing in encouraging women to pitch book reviews. And what does when she exhorts us to say yes when the media calls. And what Hook and Eye’s boast posts encourage us to do on a regular basis.
It’ll get easier. It is getting easier: for us, as women, to answer questions like the one that I got without demurring, or blushing, or laughing. And for those around us to get used to the idea that yes, we are knowledgeable, effective, powerful, respected. And it’s okay to hear us say that. Because it’s true.
What about you, dear readers? Do you find self-promotion an uncomfortable experience? Been judged for doing it? How do you work against the spoken and unspoken expectation of Good Female Academics? Or have you figured out how to transcend them in ways that you’d like to share?
photo by Arturo de Albornoz // cc