I recently saw this tweet from the exciting new democratic candidate for New York’s 14th congressional district, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

This is rightfully going viral with the hashtag #respectthehustle

I love this for the same reason so many do – the idea that our outcomes are not preordained and that each of us has the power to out-work the competition to meet success. 

Naturally, I immediately applied this to science. Out-working doesn’t require us to fetishize long hours and ignore work-life balance in science—it requires focus, resilience, and extraordinary effort. We must also recognize that the extraordinary effort required is not the same for everyone. Many people face systemic discrimination and harassment which requires enduring what no person should have to. 

But, I find it deeply comforting that despite the intense competition from the brilliant or privileged in science, it is possible to break through and succeed where those with more gifts may fail. This resilience is an enormous asset – it allows people to endure the repeated failures required for a single scientific victory. Having done this countless times in the past, they can do it again and again in the future, stacking up victories to out-pace those for whom things come more easily. 

I think this is really what recommendation letters are about in science. It’s not a laundry list of accomplishments that people want (that’s what the CV is for). Rather, it’s the experiences and anecdotes that allow readers to put together whether some nebulous quality exists. The thing they’re looking for is hustle.*


*ok you got me. That’s the thing I’m looking for. We’re hiring and here’s the link for our open postdoc position!

Categories: Reflections