Keep in touch with
Associate professor of philosophy,
when i was starting out in my first tenure-track job, I quickly got caught
up in the usual grind and didn’t keep in touch with my former instructors
as much as I wish I had. Though understandable, this wasn’t advisable
– mentors have not only a wealth of experience but a vested interest in
the success of their graduates. Michael Ruse (my MA supervisor and mentor who is currently a professor of philosophy at the State University of
Florida) and I have been exchanging emails about what the recipe for
academic success might be. Let me share with you what I only half-jokingly refer to as the “Ruse Three-Point Plan for Success in Academia”
(advice mostly in his own words, but with my own spin):
1. Develop a nose for a problem. This might come easier for some than
others, but if you’ve made it this far then you can hone your instinct for
important puzzles by sharing your work as much as possible – formally
by submitting to journals, presenting at conferences, etc., or informally
through conversations, sharing work-in-progress with colleagues, etc. –
and by keeping up on the work done by others in and sometimes outside
of your field.
2. Find a way of living with one’s thin skin. You are going to face a lot of
rejection (if you’re doing it right); but that doesn’t mean you’ll get used to it.
Your task is to find a way to get past it. Positive reinforcement is a powerful
tool, so make a list of shiny things you want and get one for yourself every
time you click that scary “submit” button.
3. Be willing to work longer and harder than you ever thought necessary
or possible. Two laws rule our academic lives more than any other:
Parkinson’s (“Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”) and Hofstadter’s (“It always takes longer than you expect”). You can’t
win, but you can put up a good fight. Set yourself up with some sticks (such
as the rigid deadlines provided by conference presentations and grant
applications) and carrots (such as the rewards outlined in no. 2 above).
Michael’s advice strikes me as invaluable, and it’s grounded in decades
of first-hand experience training and mentoring budding young scholars.
I would humbly submit one final addendum:
4. Don’t hesitate to lift material from your supervisors (with attribution,
Nurture a life
beyond the academy
Associate professor in the department of history,
University of Lethbridge
as an early-career scholar, I wish that I had heeded advice to take my
holidays. When prepping new classes and getting one’s research program
ready for tenure review or for the job market, it feels as though every
waking moment must be spent at work. While there are many demands
on early-career scholars, making space for a life beyond the academy will
help with long-term endurance in meeting professional goals, building
towards a reasonable work-life balance, and maintaining mental and
There are many ways one might go about consciously constructing
a life beyond work. Investing in a personal life through scheduling time
away from work or creating a policy of not answering work-related emails
on the weekend sets boundaries and frees time for a personal life. Volunteering for an organization that you are passionate about builds ties to
community. And, taking your vacation without bringing the work with
you helps with physical and mental regeneration.
Being an academic is a privilege, but it is also very demanding and
intense. If we don’t try to carve out a life for ourselves outside of the university, it can become all-encompassing, exhausting, and for some it can
become toxic. As a graduate student, I was told by a senior professor that
the PhD is more about endurance than intelligence. I wish, as a young
scholar, I would have tried to find ways to nurture endurance.
“ Taking your vacation
without bringing the
work with you helps
with physical and