modesty or not?

C. Boake cboake at
Fri Jan 2 15:24:47 EST 1998

In article <68drta$7j$1 at>, kgf at (Karen G.
Fleming) wrote:

> Hi all,
> I wholeheartedly second Susan's response. NO ONE is going
> to ring your bell unless you do it first. I do agree
> that there is a fine line between being direct about
> one's accomplishments and being boastful, but, as Susan
> said, there are no points for being modest: especially 
> on paper.
> If you have done it, now matter how small, then it is
> your accomplishment and you should take credit for it
> or someone else will.
> I'll get off my soapbox now and go back to lurking.
> -Karen

I too agree with Susan.  There's nothing wrong with pointing out your
accomplishments.  Unless you state them, nobody else will notice them. 
Admissions committees and tenure-&-promotion committees have too much
stuff to read upfront without reading between the lines.  We expect to see
personal essays that discuss a candidate's accomplishments and strengths
in research and teaching.  We also read enough of this material to be able
to tell the difference between padding and genuine accomplishment. For
example, if a personal essay states that a publication is in a "respected
international journal" you can be pretty sure that somebody on the
committee knows such journals from third-tier ones, and will point out any
discrepancies; on the other hand if your work with a marginal student
enabled her to publish a paper in Science, you should point it out because
your effort might not be noticed otherwise.

One thing that you can (and should) do that will not sound
self-aggrandizing is to have a chat with your most supportive
letter-writer(s) and discuss the accomplishments that you are most proud
of.  Tell the person that it would be very helpful to you if these points
were mentioned in the letter of reference.  You might even provide a brief
paragraph or two, as a reminder, that the person could use while writing. 
(For t-&-p, the dept chair might be the most appropriate person for the


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