We all make mistakes in our presentations of self. Despite our intentions to keep things to ourselves, we will pass along a bit of gossip, share “too much information”, or tap our feet when we are impatient with a friend’s long story. The consequences of these mistakes can range from small to large, and it is important to keep them in perspective–driving yourself nuts over a small mistake isn’t worth the time. On the other hand, big mistakes are worth addressing, at the very least, by promising ourselves not to repeat them.
And this brings me to some advice for graduate students.
It is extremely important that you produce a “self” that suits your role as a professional-in-training. This involves giving the impression that you are fair-minded, even-tempered, and internally motivated. It means that you take responsibility for your mistakes and shortcomings, and that you ask for help when you need it. Naturally, you will also keep appointments, show up on time, and take advantage of any possible opportunity that might help you expand and refine your professional skills.
At almost any cost you should avoid the appearance of ingratitude or impatience with those seeking to assist you. You should withhold judgment whenever possible and share your criticisms of other professionals only with friends and family. It also won’t harm you to look interested when you are bored, to go to professional events even if you’d rather nap, and to be kind even when others are not.
To me, these things are self-evident. But it is probably the case that I just got lucky with a series of mentors, friends and family members that helped me develop a reasonably effective presentation of (professional) self. Again, I make mistakes like anyone…and I also have to struggle daily to abide by my own advice.
But if these things are not self-evident, allow me to give you (graduate students) an additional reason to adopt these traits: your supervisors are watching, they are taking account of your behavior, and it is informing their decision to collaborate with you, and/or how much effort they will invest in those collaborative relationships. While mistakes are to be expected, a chronic inability to produce a professional self-in-training will trap you in a ceaseless cycle of frustration and resource deprivation. While I’m not a designated representative for “all professionals” or “all sociologists”, I feel confident saying that we simply don’t have the time–or maybe even the skills–to mentor students who think they already know what they need to know, and who think they can act as if “professional face work” is a minor or insignificant task.