The importance of other activities

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The importance of other activities

Postby Emil Chuck » Tue Feb 08, 2005 2:50 pm

A discussion came up in a meeting I had with other staff and faculty who serve as advisors for student organizations and activities here: why do undergraduates tone down their involvement in extracurricular activities (either by not being involved or discounting heavily their role)? We exchanged the importance of the "well-rounded student" when it comes to getting into professional schools. Maybe to an extent for graduate school.

Then I started in with a bit of my own perspective: when it comes to hiring someone into a postdoctoral position or faculty (or other career), my perception is that it doesn't help your standing. In a world in academia where the rules are publish or perish, taking time out to be involved in a science tutoring program -- while it makes you stand out -- is not really rewarded in the system we have now.

Honestly, I would like to know how many people who were president of the graduate student government at their school who went on to become National Academies members. In a world where we want more people to be involved as leaders or managers, why does academic science do so much to de-value those skills when it comes to hiring and promoting faculty? I'm interested to hear what people say about this.
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The importance of other activities

Postby Carlysle Tancha » Tue Feb 08, 2005 4:11 pm

I am sure that I am not speaking for myself in saying that many people "tone down" their activities because they are supposed to be the hands of the lab. They are to think and breathe science--activities that would otherwise take someone away from this culture are looked down upon because it is seen that the student is not taking his/her work "seriously."

Upon applying for grad school directly from a liberal arts college, I can't tell you the number of PIs asking me why I wasn't going to medical or law school. Talk about generalizing...
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The importance of other activities

Postby MPB » Tue Feb 08, 2005 4:19 pm

Faculty may overlook the importance of these activiteis because there is no easy way to quantify and compare them. Academics seem to like quantitative measures of productivity (number of articles, impact factors of journals, dollars of grant funding), and it's not clear how being on the grad student senate should compare with a first-authored paper. Since they don't know how to factor these things in, they tend to be ignored.

Also, I think that when people hire a post-doc, they want someone who is going to be "productive," which is defined using these same quantitive measures. It isn't clear that someone who was the president of the grad student senate is going to add to the productivity of your lab, which is all that most PIs care about.

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The importance of other activities

Postby Madison » Tue Feb 08, 2005 4:39 pm

I actually disagree with this. I think that someone who is able to progress very well through a grad program, getting several first author papers out, and who is also involved in extracuricular activities, will make a better postdoc, and a better scientist. Here's why:

If you can produce at this level and still have an outside life, you must be well organized, focused, and hard-working. You also must have a bit of independent spirit to "buck the trend" and not live your life in lab.

I don't think it's any great thing for a student or post doc to put in 110 hours a week. Anyway, if you notice, those people usually publish less, and lower impact, than people who put in 50 hours, and then go home to the rest of their life. I think that kind of work ethic comes out of desperation and fear of failure.

Balance in all things.
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The importance of other activities

Postby TF » Tue Feb 08, 2005 4:40 pm

I'm not sure exactly what segment you were referring to, I'm guessing both undergrads and grad students?

I think a lot of people in general do get involved in extra-curricular activities, but you need to define what that means. For an undergrad, would you look as highly upon someone who was president of their fraternity or the Interfraternity Council as someone who tutored in science? I mean both can be pretty difficult. How about sports? As for undergrads there could be many things that will pass for VALID extracurricular activities that many people are involved in. Do you feel that undergrad involvement in professional societies is important?

As far as grad student activity, there really isn't much that personally interests me. I don't like to teach and I suspect I am not alone in that. There is the grad student association, which tries to organize social event, but most of those people are generally phoney and annoying. Besides, I'm not at school to do organized social events like I was some 70 yr old retiree going to Atlantic City along with the rest of "the home".

I would be more interested in more general activities more along the lines of charity work, such as habitat for humanity or something. I did it in college, but there is no group for that where I am.

Most grad students where I am basically just want to be left alone, there is very little sense of community among the students. Everyone has their own thing outside of school/lab. To some extent I am the same way.
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The importance of other activities

Postby Kevin Rogers » Tue Feb 08, 2005 5:01 pm

Well I would argue that the best scientists have the best scientific skills and have the best communication (soft) skills

the best place to hone these soft skills is outside of the lab - so work/life balance is cruicial

That being said I have met many, many academics who I loved to talk about science with but I couldn't talk about anything else

Certainly when they were hired their lack of soft skills was not taken into consideration
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The importance of other activities

Postby J.J. » Tue Feb 08, 2005 5:42 pm

One employer who really really likes GSA president types is McKinsey. That out to be a ringing enough endorsement to encourage everyone to become more involved.
Often, I think it's because when you have cross-field hiring, people tend to take the standards of their own field and try to apply them when evaluating candidates. That's why law firms love to hire technical advisors from the top schools. Law is a very prestige-driven field. Same with management consulting-and they also look for outgoing people who seek out leadership positions.
In fact, anyone hoping to transition away from the bench can really help their cause with extra-curricular activities. Interested in science policy? An internship coupled with volunteer work tells a pretty compelling story on a resume.
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The importance of other activities

Postby Lora » Tue Feb 08, 2005 6:44 pm

It depends on what you do. When I did fundraising, grant-writing and public relations for non-science organizations (campus women's groups, religious orgs, shelters, etc.) it gave me a lot of practice grant-writing for the much more rigorous science grant apps. The atmosphere to humanities-based grants is not nearly as critical or hostile, and it was good practice in marketing my projects and ideas to non-science people--a very, very good skill to have in industry! Giving little seminars on date rape and suchlike can improve your communication skills immensely. I don't think this would be much help in a post-doc, but in industry it was quite useful.

The importance of other activities

Postby Andrew » Tue Feb 08, 2005 9:51 pm

When hiring for entry level (B.S.) chemist positions, I look for extracirriculars mostly because most of the resumes I get do not distinguish themselves from one another. College students, once you narrow it down to a single major pretty much take the same classes and have been exposed to the same things. Am I to select by GPA alone? So I look for undergrad research, ACS activities, church activities, student council, etc, with the idea that if someone can show leadership in a volunteer capacity (where they have no real authority and people can just walk away if they don't like you) then they can probably lead others at work as well.
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The importance of other activities

Postby Val » Tue Feb 08, 2005 10:13 pm

Andrew wrote:

> When hiring for entry level (B.S.) chemist
> positions, I look for extracirriculars...
> if someone can show leadership in a volunteer > capacity... then they can probably lead others
> at work as well.

I have a couple of questions to you:

1. What if someone does not have a personal pre-disposition to be a leader ? Should they end up their whole lives unemployed ?

2. If _everyone_ you hired are leaders by personality, whom are they going to lead ?


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