By William Cross.
Congratulations! You’ve just started your first tenure track job. In an environment in which these positions are increasingly rare and competition for them intense, this is a real accomplishment. Take a moment to relax and appreciate that your hard work and accomplishments over the past years are being recognized and rewarded. Pat yourself on the back and find the opportunity to thank all those in your life who supported you over the past few years (it likely wasn’t easy for them either…).
You’ll likely receive lots of advice regarding how to succeed in your new position: teach well, get involved in department affairs and publish, publish, publish. No doubt the advice is well-meant and in most cases accurate. What colleagues might forget to remind you is that your new position is a JOB. It’s not your entire life. Completing a PhD can be such an intense and all-consuming experience that it’s easy to forget this fact.
The life of an academic is a real privilege. We spend our days researching questions of our choosing, teaching courses that generally are in our areas of interest and interacting with bright, inquisitive students and colleagues. Typically, we are not constrained by formal 9-5 Monday to Friday hours, and long daily commutes to the office. And, on a day-to-day basis most of us don’t have a real ‘boss.’ We are largely responsible to ourselves and our own expectations. Herein lies the challenge of finding a balance between work and the rest of life. We can often set unreasonable expectations on ourselves, particularly early in our careers, that result in high levels of anxiety and stress. Working from home, for example, can be a real luxury, but it also can lead to a blurring of work/life boundaries. You’ll be tempted to work evenings and weekends, and sometimes this will be necessary. But try not to make it a regular part of your weekly routine. Be sure to maintain other interests and relationships that will support and nourish you as a whole person. Be kind to yourself. Not every lecture will be a smashing success, not every manuscript will be accepted by your journal of choice. That’s the reality of the job and it’s not a reflection on you as a person.
Academia can be highly competitive. We compete for space in journals and for increasingly rare research dollars. We routinely criticize each other’s work. Rigour, of course, is an important part of the scholarly enterprise. This can be done, however, without unduly attacking our fellow academics. Fortunately, frauds and charlatans are extremely rare in our profession. People make mistakes and sometimes produce poor work (don’t worry at some point you will as well). In critiquing others work, focus on the product and how it can be made better rather than attacking the author. We’ve all witnessed the person at a conference who launches into an overly strong attack on a junior colleague, or received reviews of our work that offer nothing constructive but are highly critical. Personally, I never submit a review of an article submission that I wouldn’t willingly sign my name to. Don’t hide behind anonymity.
Celebrate your colleagues’ successes. You’ve been focussed on research for the past few years, and graduate training prioritizes this goal. However, it’s only a part of being a successful academic and having a functional, balanced department. Appreciate that everyone in your department likely contributes in different ways. Some are research stars, some great teachers and others keep the department running through their service contributions.
Bill Cross is Professor and Bell Chair at Carleton University. He is a past-president of the Canadian Political Science Association.