This is part of a series of posts that was written as a response to – and a means of thinking through issues raised by – an e-course by Jo VanEvery and Julie Clarenbach called “Myths and Mismatches”. Here is the link to the original post, from January 17, 2011: “Myths & Mismatches” Part 10: What it takes, for what it’s worth.
Here is the last post in my series of responses to Jo Van Every and Julie Clarenbach‘s e-course on “Myths & Mismatches” in academic careers. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these posts, and I recommend this e-course as well as other materials available on both authors’ web sites.
Mismatch #5: Mismatch of Skills
As discussed in a previous post in this series, we often gain more “skills” from graduate training than we think. But the “flip-side” of that fact is that those skills are also requiredto develop successful academic career.
“Success” at an academic job involves juggling aspects of work that require both collaboration and independent, creative work; maintaining a high level of communicative competence in both spoken and written forms and for diverse audiences; working both within and without structures and time constraints, as the context demands/requires; and having both micro- and macro-level understanding of a topic or issue or project.
While “for some people, these skills come naturally”, many of us will need to learn to balance our strengths and weaknesses to achieve the necessary results; personally I think I’ll need a workaround for my introversion (I now call it being “selectively social”), for my non-linear mode of approaching things (though I’m getting much better at dealing with that), and for my chronic perfectionism about research/writing (the blog helps, I think). I worry that I’ll be too “taxed” by teaching to finish any worthwhile research, that my focus couldn’t be sustained while my attention has to be stretched in so many different directions. But then I also know that when I get into a scheduled “groove”, I often rise to the challenge and get more work done than I would otherwise.
The question posed by Jo and Julie is whether “making do” in this way is “sustainable” for you. Like students, academics “have wildly different skill sets” and while “there may be a way to bridge that gap […] it may not be worth the time and effort required”. In other words, if the demands of the job feel like “too much”, there may only be so far you can go in terms of professionalizing yourself. In my case, I ask myself whether I can learn to hone my focus for shorter periods in order to cope with the fragmentation of diverse scheduled tasks, and whether I can clobber my perfectionism and just “let go” of my writing the way others seem to be able to do. Whether I can get around feeling a disheartening sense of personal responsibility every time a student does poorly. Will “trying harder” be enough?