Sunday, 5 May 2013


Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education, Robert Sternberg, writes about "Self Sabotage in the Academic Career." His eighth point resonates the most with me (see below).

8. You lack resilience in the face of failure. In any academic career, the question is not whether you are going to have failures; the question is what you are going to do when you fail. You will have articles, book manuscripts, and grant proposals turned down; courses that are poorly received; talks for which audiences give you the cold shoulder. Academic careers are not for the faint of heart [emphasis added]. In my experience, the people who are most successful in academe are reasonably smart and at least somewhat creative, but more important, they persist in the face of obstacles. Failed academics may be smart and creative but, when challenged, give up or become embittered.

I've endured a lot of negative news since beginning my academic career. In years past, I remember the depression of adjunct teaching at three different schools, being classified as living below the standard poverty level, and at the same time receiving rejections from publishers and prospective employers. During times like that it is difficult to get up in the morning, especially if you are the main provider in a family. It is a real test of endurance to continue on in your pursuit of an academic career despite the barrage of bad news.

In many ways, my previous career as a financial consultant trained me to be resilient. Successful brokers know that it is a numbers game. You have to be willing to endure multiple nos before you receive a yes. The salesmen who typically do well at brokerage firms are those who brush off the bad news and continue to stay focused on achieving their goals. The same principle applies to the academic marketplace. Before throwing in the towel on a faculty career, I would want to know if I did everything humanly possible to achieve my goal.

If you can't criticism, aren't willing to learn from your apparent weaknesses, and are unwilling to endure multiple job, publication, and grant rejections, the vocation of a humanities professorship is probably not right for you.

No comments: