The art of self-advocacy

… and overcoming the ickiness of it all

A taboo topic that comes up a lot in my world of academia, yet no one really wants to talk about it, is the idea of self-advocacy. Some may say it is shameless self-promotion. Others may refer to it as egocentric or braggadocious (great word, by the way). But, here’s the truth… if you want win awards, score fellowships, or otherwise get recognized for your great work – at some point you are going to have to put yourself out there and self-nominate.

In a perfect world, we would all have people lined up to write letters of recommendation on our behalf, endorse our skills, and nominate us for awards.

But sorry folks, that is no one’s reality.

False: Colleagues and stakeholders love writing letters of support and filling out lengthy nomination forms for various awards and fellowships.

True: If you want to win that award, land the fellowship, or get recognized by people other than your devoted family… you MUST seek, self-advocate, and self-nominate.

So – now that I have identified reality vs. fiction – I’ll get into it.

My first “real” job was with C.W. Crocker Communications, a full-service ad agency in Sacramento, CA. As a grunt, it was a rite of passage to put together award entries for organizations like the Public Relations Society of America and the American Marketing Association. It was in these early days I first learned about the power (and necessity) of self-promotion. Granted, all entries must be reviewed by a distinguished panel of expert judges. No awards were issued if not well-deserved. But – just like with the lottery, you will not win if you do not play.

I will admit there is great esteem in receiving recognition or an award when nominated by others. These are small wins that carry a lot of weight and as professionals and educators, we should do our part to demonstrate this respect of our students, leaders, and peers whenever we can.

But, if you hesitate or expect that someone else will bestow high praise in your honor, you may be waiting for a while. Know that it is not necessarily that you are unworthy. It is far more likely that those who work with you have no bandwidth to deal with the entry, forget to make a note of the deadline, or do not possess enough knowledge of what you are doing to complete the form. Therefore (gulp), you may have to do the leg work for them and (gasp) even consider drafting the nomination or letter of support for them to review (dear Lord, say it isn’t so).

It’s OK. You are not alone in this. Welcome to your new support group.

So, speaking purely from an educator standpoint – here is what I do:

  • Join relevant professional organizations that inherently have awards, conferences, and workshops that require submissions of papers or posters.
  • Create a filing system every time an award is posted to social media or comes through email that includes the name of the award and deadline for entry (mine is in email folders).
  • Review the award entry carefully to ensure you are qualified and make note of what information is required. Can you self-nominate? Do you need letters of support? Do they require portfolio work? How much time will it take to complete the entry?
  • For all award entries, make a note of the deadline on your calendar including pre-set reminders so you give yourself time to put together your package.
  • Keep a record of all of the awards you have entered. You may not get it the first time around. Try again next year.
  • If you run out of time for an award, bookmark it for the same time the following year. Maybe you can enter in the next rotation.
  • If you get the award – share and celebrate! Tell people, create a social media post, send a copy of the award announcement to your stakeholders.

What is the payoff?

Someone once told me… the more honors and awards you win, the more honors and awards you will win.

Translation? You are more likely to win awards once you start receiving and promoting honors. Why is this true? I’m not entirely sure, but I would guess it has to do with heightening your profile, increasing name recognition, and getting noticed for the work you are doing.

The first award I won in academia was “Adjunct Professor of the Year” from Whitworth University. I was nominated by my department chair and it was a real boost to the old self-esteem.

As a practitioner, I understood the world of professional-affiliation-award-entries. But as a new full-time professor, I wasn’t sure how awards and fellowships would work given the fact I do not hold a doctorate degree. I knew I would have to get creative, research prospective opportunities, and put my name out there. And so I did. Over the past 8 years I have been nominated for some, and self-nominated for others including paper and poster presentations, awards of achievement, and fellowships. Here are some highlights:

  • In 2013 I was encouraged to apply for a Scripps Howard emerging faculty award. I applied. I did not get it.
  • In 2014 I applied for a Plank Center Educator Fellowship where recipients are partnered with a major corporation and spend two weeks with their corporate communications division. I won and spent 10 incredible days with the internal communications team at Harley Davidson Motor Co. in Milwaukee, WI.
  • In 2015 I submitted my materials to Scripps Howard Awards and won the Scripps Howard/AEJMC Visiting Professor in Social Media fellowship where I spent 10 days with the digital team at The Sacramento Bee.
  • In 2016 I wrote an e-textbook through Great River Learning. That is a story for a different post.
  • In 2017 I focused on my promotion package and did not enter any awards.
  • In 2018 I applied for an AEJMC GIFT. I did not get it, but I plan to try again this year. That summer I made substantial edits to the e-textbook and supported my colleagues at AEJMC in Washington, D.C.
  • In 2019 I was the recipient of the Oaks Academic Technology Award. This fall I was nominated as one of the Provost Featured Faculty Members and had a great time accepting this honor on the WSU football field during the 2019 Cougs vs. Stanford game.

Next up? I am presenting posters alongside my 383 and 310 students at the Murrow Symposium Showcase and joining a panel of peers at AEJMC in San Francisco in August to share my “Canva in 5” technology in the classroom ideas. As of today, I have 10 awards bookmarked for consideration with due dates between now and April. I will submit entries for some and pass on others. I also have three bookmarked where I will nominate others. It is a give and take process.

You work hard. You do great things. Now go out, get recognized, and celebrate!


This post is part of Rebecca L. Cooney’s Professional Pathways – Never Stop Learning series. Check out more posts in the Professional Pathways category.

1 Comments on “The art of self-advocacy”

  1. Pingback: The art of self-advocacy Part 2: Keep sharing | Rebecca L. Cooney

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