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.
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?
Can I have more than one dissertation
Should I pick an accomplice in my department?
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.
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!