An inquisitive student asked for some help. In order for some
possible mentors to help him he was advised to share a letter
of professional goals.
He asked: How is that different than a standard cover letter.
It might be as simple as what I heard Adam Cheyer describe as
one of three pillars to career success– VSG, verbally stated
goals. [the other two were (2) going and working outside of
your comfort zone, ie., try things, and (3) be open for the
unpredictable turn of lucky events, so try many different things
and see what happens.]
It is probably not as simple as a “cover letter” or letter of
intent which can be viewed in a similar vein.
It seems more likely to be one of the wise skills, known as
goal-setting. Often the career coaching and management
literature speaks about SMART goals. Tulane University does
a creditable job pulling thoughts together where one might
“inform” your job search with professional goals.
More than a few students have mentioned to me how
valuable the exercise of writing down their goals has
been in pursuing their career.
What might help defining the goals is doing a personal self
assessment which can be called the zeroth level of the process.
Ok, it is the beginning of the year. Let me bring
up a critical element for all scientists and engineers–
attending conferences, meetings, colloquia and local
, informal meetings (meet-ups).
I was reminded of this when I saw a portrait of
Dr. Cruikshank in the stairway of a university I
visited with a colleague. I asked him why he believes
it is important to attend conferences. Cruikshank as
many know served as director of the Gordon
Research Conferences for many years
He responded: “Education, exposure, networking, and
of course, career fairs…But, I should emphasize the need
to overcome any hesitancy to go.
COST, TIME, APPROVAL
“No” can be taken to mean “no, not now. Ask me later.”
My colleague remarked: “If one gives a talk or a poster, your
adviser is likely to pay. You can always double-up or
triple-up with peers… Grad students sell goggles and use
some of the profits for travel grants. Grants are also
available through associations.
Local meetings are usually less expensive to get to,” he also
Conference attending, whether a large meeting, an
international conference, a topical symposium, a
local section lecture or tutorial are important parts of
“co-curricular learning”, that is learning outside the
When working in industry, conference attendance is either
limited to specific areas of pertinence to your project, or
by budgetary constraints or immediate needs of the
Those in government will be focused on attending meetings
related to their agency mission.
Workers in both areas will attend gatherings if they are
involved in the organization or leadership or as a councilor.
Complications often arise from schedule conflicts. [Life
goes on and few are indispensable. Giving others a chance
to do things may prove very powerful.] So, planning and
finding win-win outcomes are an essential part of
professional behavior of attending conferences.
When working in industry, my request to attend a conference
was commonly met with the reply. You can go on your own
time. Or, if you pay your own way, you can go. So, rather
than taking this as a “no” it was a personal challenge for me
to develop strategies to volunteer to serve in different
capacities– chairing colloquia, chairing host committees,
coordinating AV or planning functions, volunteering to give
workshops, and serving on task forces and committees.
The more senior one is, the more challenging it can be.
It just raises the ante to learn from others how they are able
to manage the challenge.
SO WHY ATTEND CONFERENCES
1. Papers, presentations, 3
2. connections [information interviews, networking conversations
3. trends (in favor and out of favor),
4. grants (to university proposals, to small businesses),
5. leaders in the field,
6. organizational business
7. affinity groups,
8. short courses [personal and professional growth],
9. new technologies [explore new technologies, uses],
10. Affairs, events [small talk, conversations, information
11. develop personal skills (presentations, wise skills)
B. Fischer wrote a recent piece indicating other
12. broaden your knowledge,
13. exposure to job and business opportunities,
14. plenary lectures [choose your seat so you can see]
15. asking questions 4 ,
16. voluntary presentations
17. exhibition area [And “bling”]
18. satellite events.
She also provides a nice structure, layout and
content guide for posters and short 10-minute
talks which are becoming more common.
Make attending meetings and conferences one
of your personal resolutions. As Adam Cheyer
remarked at a recent meeting I went to — one of
your VSGs (verbally stated goals). The other
success behaviors were: try something outside of
your normal realm of experience and exposure and
be open to the significant, unpredictable role of luck.