Last week, Virginia Schutte and I released another episode in our podcast, Meteor: The honest podcast about scicomm with impact. Last week’s episode was about using your resume and/or CV to understand, define, and validate yourself, not to ask for permission.
I’ve been thinking more about this, since it’s “application season” for fellowships, jobs, grants, and more. In particular, I field a lot of queries about fine-tuning cover letters and application materials. I’ve shared various resources for them online (like a workshop series on applying for the NSF GRFP that’s applicable to most application types) and on social media. But today, I want to share something more specific and detailed about what is arguably the most important part of your application: the cover letter.
To my mind, the cover letter is most important because it may be the only part of your application that a hiring manager, grants program officer, editor, or whomever reads.* Your cover letter is your shot at (a) getting them to want to read your CV, references, etc. With the cover letter, your goal is to get on the short list for reading your full packet or even offering a phone/video-call interview.
To do that, you have to be what Virginia talks about in the podcast episode: you have to be convincing — as who you are — as the person they might want to hire. Your application, especially your cover letter, should not be trying to convince the reader that you can become who you say you want to be relative to the position or opportunity.
I teach numerous Sketching for Scientists workshops each semester, for faculty, students, and science/science-allied professionals beyond academia. Each time, we do a lively, evidence-based crash course in habits of mind and foundational drawing techniques. I keep the focus tightly on integrating drawing with doing and sharing science, and for faculty, there is an additional coaching element where I help them think through curricular planning that can make grading feasible and productive and convincingly convey the value and utility of drawing for learning science.
Each time I run these workshops, I share a list of the techniques we’ve discussed, as a memory aid.
Here’s that list, in case it’s also helpful for you!
I frequently get asked by students and faculty what kind of advice I have for a student interested in sharing science. Some of these students want careers as scicomm professionals. Others want to do scicomm as a scientist. And others still just know someone who is looking for advice. This post is written as direct-to-the-seeker advice.
Feel free to share it and chime in about the advice you share or have found most helpful — share in the comments or on Twitter!
As a starting point, I typically I recommend folks read “Unveiling Impact Identities: A Path for Connecting Science and Society” (link to paper). Julie Risien and Martin Storksdieck’s paper is about about how to meld what they call research and impact identities. Reading this paper can help you orient you to…yourself.
I was invited to serve as the People’s Choice Judge for Canadian Science Publishing*’s 2021 Visualizing Science contest (which you can enter now!). In the course of launching the contest, CSP interviewed me about my take on creative approaches to visualizing science and doing science communication.
Here are the cliff notes:
I came to a career scicomm in a round-about way, only to later discover I had been doing scicomm most of my career.
My “creativity+scicomm” soap box centers around 3 principles: (1) Creativity can be practiced and enhanced. (2) Cross-training is essential. (3) Few innovations happen overnight or solo.
Despite the constraints and our conditioning in academia, we must ground our science communication and public engagement efforts in what our audience or target stakeholders value. “No amount of beautiful art or accessible color palette […] will salvage a visual communication effort that is developed in an echo chamber.”
I was fascinated and delighted to join a group of researchers who used art (collages made by community members) to better understand what citizens in the United Kingdom want agricultural landscapes to look like post-Brexit. The published article clarifies that Brits want to look at bucolic landscapes, but perceive renewable energy infrastructure as more environmentally friendly than livestock on the landscape.
I initially joined the research team to bring an arts perspective to the writing of the manuscript. As I dug in, I came to see the research approach as broadly useful. Here are a few excerpts from a UW press release about the study that effectively sum up my take:
I see it having a lot of relevance for us in Wyoming and North America broadly, as it uses a mixed-methods approach to better understand what citizens actually want to see on the landscape. We are deep into these kinds of discussions in Wyoming right now, so these kinds of public consultation studies can be valuable for us, too.