Tag Archives: hadfield

You Must Stand Out

Photo by Rupert Britton on Unsplash

I can’t emphasize enough how much you should try to aim for zero– show up, be competent, don’t try too hard.  On the flip side, if you are forgettable, marginal, or just merely acceptable, you won’t ‘wow’ anyone and you won’t get letters of recommendation.  Obviously, you should read and adhere to all of the How to be Successful series of posts. In addition to those concepts, here are some which will help make sure you Stand Out.

1) Ask questions.  There can be a difficult balance between annoying, constantly questioning/bugging and curious, thoughtful, and engaged.  Asking thoughtful questions indicates you understand the material and are interested in learning even more. You may ask any questions you like, and this is a great way to learn, but if you haven’t done the basic reading and work to understand the foundations of the topic at hand, you probably won’t stand out when you ask your questions. Conversely, try not to ‘wow’ people with the questions you ask- esoteric data and minutia can be all well and good, but whenever a student asks me a question like this, it is obvious that they are trying to suck up or stand out.

2) Help out.  You may think faculty don’t notice all of your hard work, and maybe some of them don’t, but most of us keep a close eye on how hard working the students are.  Help your classmates out whenever they need it. Teamwork is an essential skill for veterinary medicine- demonstrate that you care more about the team than yourself.

3) Don’t be silent.  You don’t have to be the most outgoing, gregarious person but, if you are silent, you will almost surely fade into the background.  You should be engaged when things are happening and learning opportunities occur. Be prepared to answer when you are asked a question.  If you don’t know the answer for sure, you can hazard a guess. It is far preferable to make an educated guess than to be sitting in silence while the faculty waits for an answer.  Participate participate participate.

4) Be energetic.  Again, you don’t have to be an extrovert, but you DO have to look like you are happy to be working and learning.  You’re in vet school or an internship or a residency- isn’t that AWESOME?!? You can’t be excited 24/7, particularly with some of the long, mentally taxing hours we work, but you CAN do your best to express your enthusiasm as often as possible.  Students who are energetic and seem happy to be there make a far better impression than those who seem like they are just putting in their time.

5) Study.  This may seem self-evident, which is why it’s not in the How to Be Successful series, but I am often amazed when students go home and then don’t study.  Yes, you may be able to pass and do a fine job. But do you expect you will be able to excel, to stand out from the crowd? All vet students are above average and all interns much more so- if you want to stand out, you have to work, and part of this is studying when you go home or have down time.

I don’t want you to STRIVE to be outstanding or above the crowd- doing so will almost surely set you up for failure.  However, I do want you to be AWARE of what you can do to be a remarkable student/intern/resident. Find the opportunities to do these things as they arise, but don’t force it into situations.  If you had a long, tiring shift and try to force yourself to be energetic, it will come off as false and disingenuous.

These are some of the characteristics of the students whom I notice and for whom I am inclined to write positive letters of recommendation.  What are some other characteristics you believe are important?

How to be Successful: Aim For Zero

The Vetducator - Chris Hadfield Book Cover

I was doing a locum job in Saskatoon when some of the people at the hospital directed me to a book written by the first Canadian to walk in space, “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth…” by Chris Hadfield.  While generally entertaining, I found the most compelling chapter in the book was about performance. How do you excel in a new position, and how might you extend this to a job search or interview?  If you have a scale from -1, which is being a drain on the system or a bad interviewee, to a 0, where you contribute your fair share to the system or do a competent job, to a +1, which is being a superstar and beloved by all, Hadfield’s advice is to Aim For Zero.  I couldn’t agree more.

I will never forget becoming a new third-year resident and having the new first-year residents start at UGA.  One of the new medicine residents had a case going in radiology under anesthesia. One of my mentors, a full Professor of anesthesia, British not-to-be-messed-with attitude, and all around terrific academic, went to radiology to check on the case.  The new medicine resident told my mentor in a very sharp, dismissing tone, “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” Everyone got very quiet. My mentor barely acknowledged the resident, checked out everything, and then went about her business. She wasn’t angry, just shocked, as was I.  What the hell was the resident thinking? Looking back, the resident was aiming to be a +1, able to handle any situation, trusted and respected by all. Instead, her actions marked her as a clear -1.

In writing a letter of intent, you want to follow the general guidelines we have mapped out before, but you don’t want to try TOO hard.  You may come across in a way you don’t intend. In an interview, you want to be prepared, competent, knowledgeable, and personable. But you don’t want to strive to be amazing.  I had one candidate interview for a faculty position who had done an amazing amount of research. He had committed my recent publications to memory and asked me about all of them.  He knew people in the organization and what their roles and duties were, and he brought them up. It was impressive, but also just a little bit off-putting. Other candidates have been prepared- knowing one or two interesting publications of mine which have come up organically during conversations- and that was fine.  The obsessive focus this candidate had was not fine.

Could you lose out to the actual +1 candidate?  It’s possible. Charismatic, competent people who are amazing at writing and interviews do exist.  But in my experience, they are few and far between. And, are you really going to beat out the top 5% for a position if you are genuinely in the top 15%?  I think it is more likely you will end up hitting -1 if you try to aim to be a +1. Maintain your dignity and trust that the right thing will work out for you. We will cover all the elements needed to become a +1 in a series of posts on How to be Successful.

You need to prepare.  You need to practice. You need to research and talk to others about your application and process.  But don’t aim to be that amazing blow-them-out-of-the-water candidate, because you’re more likely to miss.  Aim for zero- quietly competent.