Find Social Support

You Need A Team Of Your Own

The Tenure Track Marathon is inevitably a long and lonely winding road.

Do your close friends, partner and family truly understand the nuances of your research? Probably not.

Early in your academic career, usually by the time you have finished your proposal for the dissertation, you will know more about your specific research topic than any other person. The specialized world of academia is intrinsically isolating.

Because of the solo nature of most scholarly pursuits, it is useful to deliberately create strong social support networks. To succeed as an academic, while maintaining your sanity and sense of humor, I suggest consciously creating a network of helpful colleagues. Work as diligently at forging fortifying friendships as you would on any other component of your career.

Tenure Track Buddies
Support Groups
University Resources

Tenure Track Buddies

When you were in preschool, and went on field trips, your teachers had you team up with a partner and hold hands. The buddy system was what kept you from getting lost and helped you feel less anxious and alone.

Now, a couple of decades later, a planned companionship system is still the best method to keep from getting lost in the maze of your career path.


How to Develop a Tenure Track Buddy

  • Find a peer to team up with as your friend, confidant, advisor, and taskmaster. It’s not necessary for this person to be in your department, field or university.
  • You can start this process on the first day of graduate school, after comps, when you’re an A.B.D., when you’ve begun your faculty appointment, six months before you come up for tenure. Anytime is fine and the earlier the better.
  • Meet or talk by phone on a regular basis. Weekly is ideal.
  • Brainstorm and decide on the tasks you each need to tackle. Help one another set specific, weekly goals.
  • Remember that you don’t need to understand the content of one another’s research. Just keep track of the action steps you must each take.
  • Help one another choose reasonable plans that are actually achievable. “Is that a realistic goal?” is a good question to ask.
  • Each week, commit to the number of hours you will work. Designate when those hours will take place, taking into account other work and personal commitments.
  • Write up and email one another your weekly plans.
  • Review the previous week’s plan to see what has gone well and what has gone wrong.
  • Provide moral support, encouragement and sage advice.
  • Laugh together at the absurdities of academia.

Commonly Asked Questions


Can my spouse or partner be my Tenure Track Buddy?
No, usually not.

When you ask your partner to be your academic buddy you are creating a dual relationship that invites negative transference issues. You may find your loved one quickly morphing into a nagging parent.

I have known academics whose spouse was their most trusted critic and valued taskmaster, but do you want to take this risk? No. Share the tribulations and glories of your intellectual life with your partner. Go ahead and ask for advice. Show your drafts. Strut your stuff. Just don’t make your lover your study hall monitor.


Can I have more than one dissertation buddy?

It is great to have a stable of supportive peers. It is common to develop buddies specialized roles – such as statistics maven, grammar editor, politics navigator, co-complainer, cheerleader. Usually, however, you will want a “best buddy” because you’ll only have time to meet with one person on a weekly basis. Having regular, nonnegotiable appointments – whether by phone or in person, and usually with adjunct, email updates – is the hallmark of an ideal buddy system.


Should I pick an accomplice in my department?
It depends on whether you are a graduate student or a junior faculty member.

If you are a grad student or post-doc, you may. If you are an untenured professor,don’t do it.

The pros and cons of intradepartmental buddies doctoral student or a postdoctoral fellows are complex: there are compelling benefits, but also emotional dangers, to this arrangement.

The risk is jealousy. In many top doctoral programs, sibling rivalry is rife. (I find intense peer competition to be especially problematic in clinical psychology departments where we scramble to prove that we are not only the most brilliant, but the most empathetic, generous, warm and supportive!)

If you can avoid envy, then a buddy within your department has many advantages. He or she will know the players and the system, and can often give the best advice for dealing with advisors, bureaucracy and academic requirements. You can more confidently reassure one another than you are still sane and the system is crazy.

In contrast, if you are an assistant professor, avoid developing a Buddy relationship with anyone in your department. The benefits are not worth the dangers.

In graduate school, the professors want all students to be successful and graduate. It is in their interest to have a successful cadre of students.

At a faculty level, however, there can be reality-based, survival-of-the-fittest pressures. There may be several junior profs vying for the same tenure spot. University bureaucrats may prefer to keep a rotating pool of less-expensive junior faculty and make permanent room for only the star players.

Because of the potential for competitive conflicts of interest among untenured peers within individual departments, it is preferable to find colleagues in other fields, or other universities, to be your Tenure Track Buddies. (Please note that a tenure track buddy is not the same is a mentor: you definitely want to foster as many mentoring relationships as possible with senior colleagues in your department.)


Support Groups

My specific suggestions for organizing and participating in peer support groups will be forthcoming by 9/03.

In the meantime, I would highly suggest reading Chapter 7 in Joan Bolker’s great book,Writing Your Dissertation in Fifteen Minutes a Day. Chapter 4 in Peter Elbow’s classic book,Writing Without Teachers, may also be useful in drawing up guidelines for a support group.

University Resources

There are many free, campus support services at every university and you should avail yourself of as many as possible. Your institution is likely to have the following resources:

  • Writing Center
  • Counseling and Psychological Services
  • Faculty and Staff Assistance Program
  • Center for Teaching and Learning
  • Career Services Center
  • Alumni Relations Department
  • Grant Writing Workshops
  • Office of Development

Use these resources. Frequently!