Surviving and Thriving in the Academy

 Marketing Director   November 9, 2020  Career Advice

Working in higher education is a marathon, not a sprint. It is important to take care of yourself so that you not only survive in the academy– but you thrive. Here are some survival tips:

Never Stop Learning

Dr. Cynthia Tyson, Professor in the Department of Teaching and Learning at The Ohio State University, teaches courses in Multicultural and Equity Studies in Education, Early Childhood Social Studies, and Multicultural Literature for Children and Young Adults. Dr. Tyson suggests that you find a mentor and that you know the documents, journals, and resources that impact your work. While you teach, be a lifelong learner. Stay current and contribute to the conversation within your discipline. 

Dr. Claudia Highbaugh, the retired Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life at Connecticut College, reminds us of the importance of making connections. Make friends in the community, and create intentional connections with businesses and community leaders. Network with others in your discipline at other institutions. Design and maintain relationships that support your work and the visibility of the institution in the larger community. It is also critical that we create, sustain, and work hard to foster personal support systems.

Fight for What Matters Most to You

As in all industries, there are political realities in higher education. Choose your battles. Determine if this is the political battle you’re willing to fight for (such as your contract not being renewed, your tenure denied, or your termination from a job), or one that you need to “live to fight another day.” Dr. Tyson advises new professionals to “become a ‘tempered radical’- a person whose approach to surviving in an organization while staying committed to their own identity, cause, community or ideology” (Myerson, 2001).

Keep Your References in Mind

As your career progresses, stay connected to and keep your references apprised of your work as you move from job to job or seek promotions. When your references know you and your work, they can be specific about your accomplishments, and better respond to how your gifts and skills meet the needs of the new position.

Take Care of You

We all have ways of thriving. Audre Lorde wrote in A Burst of Light and Other Essays(1988), “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Self-care is essential to thriving in the academy.  We must care for our mind, body and spirit as we recognize our call to education. Our gifts and talent remain consistent; the context may change, but we are still incredibly capable. When we meet challenges, we must find ways to center ourselves, learn from our mistakes, clarify expectations, and move on.

Reflect on How You Want to be Remembered

Finally, even as you are beginning your career in higher education, think about what you want your legacy to look like. What do you want your work to do, to change, or to affect? Take note of the students and colleagues that you mentor and support. What have they learned from you? What have you learned from them? Stay in contact with your mentees and supportive colleagues.

About the Author: Leslie Taylor comes from a higher education family. Leslie’s parents are still working, teaching, and mentoring younger faculty members, and her sister is an adjunct professor. Leslie has served as a staff member in religious life, student services, and admissions for 16 years.