I have been crazy busy desperately trying to finish fellowship applications so it seemed like the perfect time to work on a blog post! First, a reminder. Followed by a disclaimer. Then the post. If you want, you can skip the reminder and disclaimer and go right to the post. But then you won’t know what it was that I wanted to remind you about. And you could finish the blog and be angy that you “wasted” your time because you didn’t read the disclaimer. So maybe you should just read it in the order I’ve written since I know best. About everything.
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Disclaimer: This is an informational career-related, or as my brother calls them “boring”, post. I’ve signed up for a 9 week seminar course called “Future Faculty” designed to enlighten those of us considering careers in academia on how we find a job, how we keep a job, and how we make millions of dollars off our brains. Ok, I made that last one up. The classes are every Tues evening so there should be a post up at some point every Wed summarizing what was discussed at that week’s seminar. But don’t worry, for those of you who are just in it for my usual witty repertoire of thought-provoking insights, I’ll still be posting those fast and furious……errrr…..slowly and somewhat annoyingly?? You know, the same pace.
Participants were emailed a bit of ‘homework’ before the first seminar. A little self-assessment of sorts. On the first page was listed a series of things that people might value, shown below. We were asked to put a star beside the things that we valued most, cross out those items that were not important to us, then go back and pick 3 more things that were important. It seemed kinda hokey at first, but it was a good exercise to actually sit and think about what it is that I want out of a career. A clear trend arose when I looked at my answers. And since I know you’re all waiting with bated breath, I’ll share;
Be a good teacher
*Be intellectually challenged
Collaborate on interdisciplinary projects
Mentor undergraduate students
Write influential books and articles
Live in a part of the country I really like
Do stimulating research/scholarship on a regular basis
Be a member of a close-knit college campus community
Raise a family and be a good parent
Have job security
Get students who were not previously interested excited about my field
Be autonomous and independent
Advise graduate students and post docs
Work a flexible schedule
Live near family and friends
Collaborate with colleagues around the world
Put down roots in a community
Work with campus colleagues I really like
Run a lab with postdocs and grad students
Earn a high salary
Help solve real-world problems
Work with really smart people
*Have time for personal pursuits (sports, travel, read for pleasure)
Be well-known in the field
Be involved in activities with undergrads outside of class
Help students learn about my area of research
Work on research projects with undergraduate students
Live in the same town as my partner
Be an active participant in a supportive network that crosses disciplinary boundaries
*Spend time thinking and learning
Basically, I put a big fat “x” through all the touchy-feely crap on the list. The list wasn’t really touched upon in class, it was just used as a tool to get you thinking about what your career path might look like. The roles and responsibilities of faculty were broken down to 1) teaching, 2) research/scholarship and 3) service, both disciplinary and community. Depending on the faculty position the proportion of your time spent on each of these activities varies greatly, but if you think about which of these activities you value most that can really help guide you job search.
The class featured panellists who had all chosen alternative faculty positions outside a major research university. One was at a Jesuit college with a “head, heart and hand” mission (ie. touchy-feely crap), one had chosen a tenured position at a community college (tons of teaching) and the third had chosen a primarily undergraduate university in an administrative role. I had no idea that community colleges had tenured faculty, is that an American thing or is it that way in Canada too? And they don’t do too badly for themselves either as the average salary for tenured faculty at a community college is $80,000/yr in CA. There was no faculty on the panel from a big primarily research university because this session was trying to show the alternatives. Most of these jobs had very heavy teaching components, something that doesn’t interest me but that I know many friends enjoy, and the Jesuit college had a very heavy ‘service’ component as well. The major thing I learned from listening to them is that if your answers looked anything like mine on that list of values, you don’t want any of those jobs! But they did have some good words of advice.
I think one of the most poignant quotes of the seminar was “This is your life, not your advisor’s”. Our PIs are not just our bosses, they’re our mentors and it’s hard not to feel like we’re disappointing them when we choose a path that is not one they would choose or that they’ve advised against. But to choose your own path takes not only courage but clarity and that’s when asking questions about what you value and thinking more abstractly rather than just “Do I want to be a prof?”, can help the most. One panelist told us, “Look in the mirror and ask yourself: Are you a researcher who teaches? Or a teacher who does research?”