Graduate student, nominate thyself

This is a quick post that was inspired by some thinking I was doing yesterday while finishing up a project and a resulting tweet that seemed to garner a bit of attention (relative standards here, people). You can find it below.

The punch line is this: You should probably nominate your own work for awards, whether they be papers, conference presentations, or (eventually) book awards. Even as a graduate student.

This is something I really only realized you could do a couple of years ago. I came into graduate school knowing next to nothing about how the academic profession actually worked. My initial and admittedly naive impression was that, as a newcomer, you had to do the work first, and if anyone thought your ideas or work were that good, then someone would nominate you for some sort of award. More simply, awards followed recognition and acceptance. The idea of nominating myself for an award, though it never even occurred to me at the time, would have seemed audacious, to say the least.

But the reality is that’s not really how the system works. At least not all of it. Rather than thinking of awards as denoting recognition and acceptance, it might be better to think of the system as a two-type system where *some* awards *precede* recognition and acceptance. I emphasize *some* awards because there are in fact some awards for which you’re more likely to be nominated by other people. I think you can usefully think of these groups as generally applying to junior faculty and/or graduate students applying for conference, paper, or book awards, and then senior faculty who are nominated for more prestigious discipline or field awards. The former seem to be more prone to self-nomination, and the latter seem to be more apt to see nomination by third parties. You can probably think of internal awards for things like teaching as operating along a separate third track. At Kansas State, internal teaching awards require a nominating party other than the nominee, though this may vary by institution. And even when we’re thinking of things like book awards, the nomination process can be a bit more varied, as some publishers will apparently agree to nominate a book once it’s in print—a kind of quasi self-nomination.

So, why should you nominate your own work? Beyond being ignorant of how the system worked, my initial reaction upon learning that you could self-nominate was astonishment. It kind of chafed against my personal sensibilities, and seemed a little distasteful. This is a hard impulse to shake, but it’s really no different than other forms of self-promotion, and can potentially be a valuable signaling tool for graduate students and junior faculty to help your work stand out. Given the dumpster shit fire that is the academic job market, you need every edge you can get—particularly if (like me) you’re not coming from a big name university with unlimited resources. As a graduate student, you put a lot of time and effort into your work, all in the face of uncertain job prospects, and you shouldn’t feel bad about putting a little effort into advertising that work to others.

Also, just think about the sheer amount of content that’s out there—even just in terms of conference papers at an event like APSA, or ISA. Nobody has time to read, process, and evaluate all of those articles, papers, books, and posters. So it’s not that people aren’t nominating your work because it’s not good, it’s just that people have limited time and resources. Nominating yourself for an award is simply asking your peers to take a closer look at your work. And if you’re not great at the cold-call style of in-person networking at conferences, like me, then this might help to get your name in front of some new people. You might want to discuss this first with an adviser or other faculty familiar with your work if you’re earlier on in your graduate career, just to make sure you’re meeting a basic threshold of competence, but it’s probably not a bad idea for more senior graduate students who are looking for jobs to give this a shot.

This is probably something I should have done more of in graduate school, and as a junior faculty member (maybe even now). But having such a poor understanding of how academia worked when I started graduate school, along with a raging case of impostor syndrome, it’s nothing I realized that I could do, or even should do. After all, as a newcomer/outsider, who am I to think my work is already so good as to deserve an award. But that’s not really a helpful way to think about it. So, for whatever it’s worth, this is me encouraging you to do as I say, not as I did and basically still do but will try to not do so much of anymore.

About Michael Flynn

Michael Flynn is an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at Kansas State University. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from Binghamton University in 2013. His research focuses on the political and economic determinants of foreign economic and security policy, security issues, and state repression.

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