EDUCAUSE 2018, which I did not attend but did follow on Twitter (#EDU18), has me thinking about careers. Conferences are about many things, including issues related to career development. Panels and presentations on career progression are always well represented. Hallway and dinner conversations represent opportunities to get some career coaching from colleagues at other schools.
Discussions of careers are usually about the next job. We ask what that next position may be? What are our ultimate career goals? Should we aim for a leadership role such as CIO? What professional development, experience, and skills are needed to progress?
Seldom are career discussions revolve around how stay put. The assumption is that careers are like sharks. Move forward or die.
Do are academic careers need to be shark-like? Might we rethink what career success means? There are many good reasons to pursue new challenges and to go for that big job. But maybe there are also some reasons to not go for that next job.
Here are 10:
#1 - You like what you are doing.
Some of us may be in a place where we have worked progressed in our careers to the place where we want to be. The work that we are immersed in is the work that we want to be doing. The actual work for many is more important than the title.
#2 - You are not interested in managing people.
Going to that next big job may involve more management responsibilities. Few of us got into higher education with the goal of managing people. For those with a large number of direct reports, you know how time-consuming that management can be. The more people one manages, the further one gets from the hands-on work of the role.
#3 - You don’t think the work of a big job is right for you.
We all struggle to develop a level of self-awareness to understand what sort of career roles in which we will thrive. Imposter syndrome is real. It is probably true that many more people e should be going for big jobs than probably are. Still, there are some who have the insight to realize that their strengths lie somewhere else than in the work of academic leadership.
#4 - You prioritize work/life balance.
Big academic jobs, like all big professional gigs, are hugely intense. They require the commitment of an amazing amount of time and energy. The pace is fast. Expectations are high. Days are highly scheduled and spent in endless meetings. Meetings are often scheduled for early mornings and evenings. The work never stops. Balancing a big job with non-work commitments and activities is difficult. Some people figure out how to do this. But anyone going into a big job knows how demanding the work can be.
#5 - You want to stay at your current institution.
A quirk of academia is that moving to that next big job usually requires going somewhere else. This seems to be true both for faculty and for staff. Higher education does a poor job of building pathways for internal promotion. There may be many reasons not to want to move to another school. You may like the institution that you work at, as the culture and mission may be aligned with your values.
#6- You have roots and obligations in your community.
We are employees, but our job is not the only role that we play. Many of us are deeply embedded in our communities. We are members of faith organizations. We are volunteers. We are connected to a web networks that enrich and fulfill our lives. If that next big job means moving somewhere else, then going for that job may not seem worth the cost.
#7 - You are balancing a dual-career partnership.
For some of us, our academic careers are not about one job, but about two. Figuring out how to manage career advancement for dual-academic career couples is difficult. The geographic distribution of academic employment is strange. To get that next big job it is usually necessary to go where that job is - wherever it may be. This makes it difficult for the partner to also maintain, much less progress, in their career. Sometimes we take turns. If we find two academic jobs that work pretty well for both partners, then we might stay put.
#8 - You have significant family responsibilities to balance with your work.
People’s lives are complicated. Many of us are caring for kids, parents, or other relatives. We are not free agents. Dependents are often not all that portable. Geographic closeness matters when you are managing the care of a family member. Moving a kid to a new school is sometimes not possible. Many variables go into the decision to pursue that next big job, and family responsibilities are often at the top of the list.
#9 - You think your most significant impact and contribution will come from other activities.
We assume that bigger jobs also equal bigger impact. That if you want to make a larger contribution, than it is necessary to move to a position of greater responsibility. It may be, however, that your biggest impact comes in the job that you are doing. You may be making a real difference in your current service, teaching, or research. Your position at your institution may afford you opportunities to make a difference that other roles may not. Title does not always equal impact.
#10 - You find the academic search process challenging.
Career advancement in higher education is different than in other industries. Getting that next big job means fighting for that next big job. Every search committee that I sit on renews my amazement about how many amazing candidates apply for each available job. Anyone wishing to ascend to a leadership role will likely have to apply to many positions before being offered a job. For some, the hoops that those in academia need to jump through to get that big job are not worth the prize.
What other reasons can you add for staying put?
If you are thinking about going for a leadership role, and you can overcome the 10 objections enumerated above, I say go for it. You are likely more qualified for a big job than you think. Nobody knows what they are doing in a new job. Everyone is making it up as they go along.
For those who want to stay where they are, we need to find some way that our colleagues can achieve career progression without the need to change roles. We need to offer opportunities for growth and greater responsibility within jobs and institutions.
How might have a different sort of conversation about the shape of career success?