Don’t Give Up: Beginning Your Academic Career

All of us in academia have been where you are. Some people will tell you the truth about being an academic. Others will lie. When you first become an academic, remember to be true to yourself. Below are five truths when you start academia.

You will feel overwhelmed.

When you started your graduate studies, such as a Ph.D. program, you will have high hopes. Almost all of us envisioned solving difficult problems that no one else could. However, you quickly realize that it is easier said than done. There are always new challenges. The work is endless. The struggle is constant.

You will need to have tough conversations.

Tough conversations are a part of the research process. No one likes them. But tough conversations show that you care; that you have good intentions; that you want to make a difference.

These tough conversations are the things that help you and others come to terms with your reality. If you need to tell others you can’t do something, that is okay. You should feel that is okay to do. If your colleagues make you feel otherwise, take a step back and reflect on what is going on. Most of the time, others will be struggling too.

You will need to look vulnerable.

When you’re OK with the fact that what you are going to do might make you appear foolish, that’s when you’re most likely to make progress. When you will feel like you can’t do something, or that you don’t have the knowledge, that is okay. We all do. Jump in and take a chance.

If you live and die by metrics, you will have little meaning in your life.

Metrics are a strong part of academia. In my opinion, they do more harm than good. Stop looking for the quick win or wondering why someone is not going to help you. You have to keep working, even when you don’t feel like it.

Everyone cares about what others think of them. But, the only thing metrics force you to do is focus on others and what they have done. Stop paying attention to other people. Focus on your own goals and dreams. Start making positive changes in your life!

Work to Live

Don’t let work define you. Once you get to the moment that you don’t care about the thing you are working on – it does not define you – is the moment that you become okay with the demands of an academic career.

You will work a lot – like most of your colleagues. You have to be willing to throw out or revise some of the work you have been doing for decades. You will have to throw out old ideas, revise them, or adapt them. It sucks but that is knowledge creation. That is why you cannot let the work define you.

When you are excited about your work and that is all you think about, you are on the right track.

For me, I feel just as excited about research as I did when I started. It’s a struggle and I feel overwhelmed a lot, but the struggle is still exciting.

While there are challenges you will face in the academic career and you will need to have mountains of persistence, many of us learn to love it. What I like to do is imagine that I am an explorer, and I get to wander into the unknown. It is never easy for those folks, either.

Keep wandering and exploring!

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