The Secret Your Neighborhood Rhodes Scholar Doesn’t Want You To KnowFebruary 22nd, 2008 · 20 comments
The Rhodes Scholar Factor
Here’s a non-controversial statement: Rhodes Scholars are pretty damn impressive. Take, for example, Benjamin. I drew his name at random from the 2008 winners of the scholarship. According to the official press release:
Benjamin…is a senior at Yale majoring in philosophy and political science. Elected as a junior to Phi Beta Kappa and winner of Yale’s Lyman Prize, he won the North American Parliamentary Debate Championship as well as academic prizes in English, humanities, writing and public health. He has a number of published articles in legal and medical publications, and interned in the Newark Mayor’s office.
Clearly, when you have a bio like this you can more or less write your own ticket after graduation. But how does this help us mere mortals who don’t expect, any time soon, to pull a North American Parliamentary Debate Championship out of our respective asses?
I’ll let you in on a secret. Having worked extensively with Rhodes Scholars for my various writing projects, I’ve noticed: there is a crucial lesson hidden behind their kick-in-the-groin, neck-snapping resumes — a lesson that can help any of us get a leg-up in the post-graduation scramble.
Allow me to elaborate…
The Law of Complementary Accomplishments
Imagine, for a moment, that we can label every line item on your student resume with two scores: impressiveness and effort. The former captures how impressive it is to the average observer and the latter captures how much sweat you invested to get it.
Many Rhodes Scholars take advantage of the following law:
Once you accomplish something of a non-trivial impressiveness and effort score, you can achieve many complementary accomplishments that have similar impressiveness scores but require very little additional effort.
Consider Benjamin, our sample Rhodes Scholar from above. He did something very impressive and that required a lot of effort: being a top student in his class. But that generated for him, with little additional work, many of the complimentary accomplishments which makes his bio seem so full; e.g., Lyman Award, Phi Beta Kappa, “numerous academic prizes in English, humanities, [and] writing.” These were a consequence of being a great student; not separate endeavors requiring comparable amounts of separate work.
How Juice Up Your Own Student Bio
How do you take advantage of the law of complementary accomplishments in your own student life? Consider your resume. If most of the major items on it required a lot of independent effort, then you are probably wasting time. Consider, instead, focusing on just one thing. Push at it until you are as good as possible. Go beyond where most of your lazy friends would normally be satisfied to stop.
Once you begin to be recognized for being good at it, start looking for complementary opportunities that this goodness suddenly makes available. For example:
- Scholarships or fellowships that might now be easier to win.
- Cool internships in similar fields.
- Relevant awards.
- Related mini-projects that you can now make happen.
For example, in college I put a lot of work into undergraduate research. This one application of effort yielded the following complementary accomplishments with little extra sweat on my part:
- My name on several peer-reviewed publications.
- High honors in my major.
- Two different research-related scholarships.
- Induction into a well-known research society.
- A summer spent on campus being paid to research.
Each of these boasts a high impressiveness score, but required little additional effort. I put a serious amount of time into my undergrad research and these compliments begin to shake loose almost of their own accord. It would have been impossible to build up a list of the same length and impressiveness if each item had to be started from scratch.
It’s All About The Efficiencies
This law is a key component in achieving the Rhodes Scholar Effect — the shake of disbelief where the interviewer or admissions officer thinks: “How the hell did she do all of this?”
By leveraging the law of complementary accomplishments, you are achieving this effect without killing yourself. The effort required to do one thing really well (and then reap all the freebie complementary accomplishments) is less than what’s require to do two or three mildly impressive things. The latter route, of course, being the one followed by must students who are trying (but failing) to stand out from the crowd.
So stop working hard on so many things. Focus. Then make sure you take advantage of everything this focused accomplishment grants you for free.
Also, if you get a chance, win a National Debate Championship. That helps, too.