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Treating Tenure-Track Positions like a 7-year Postdoc

July 22, 2013

Treating Tenure-Track Positions like a 7-year Postdoc

Today’s read is an interesting, and really pretty fresh, take on life as a tenure-track scientist.  If we ignore for a second the fact that a tenure-track position at an R1 University is a near statistical impossibility for most students, there is a great lesson to be learned from this read.  The author started with the upfront idea that tenure is not the goal of a tenure-track position.  Read that again – tenure is not the goal! When you enter the position in that mentality, you give yourself the freedom to actually enjoy the science, enjoy the work, and enjoy your life.  If we could expand this to all other areas of schooling, graduate studies and postdocs, and start shifting the culture in the direction of bringing joy and sane work-life balance back into academic research, the quality of the research would go up alongside the quality of life.

The big caveat to keep in mind when you take this approach is the “backup plan” – the author is a computer science professor at Harvard with a PhD from MIT, with a pretty well defined path to industry.  If you have a degree from a lesser-known University, or a degree in a field with less direct applicability to real-world problems, you need to constantly be vigilant about maintaining open doors into the “post-academic” life.  If you want to have the mental freedom to treat academia as a temporary gig and worry less about the long-term “success” goals such as landing a tenure-track job or securing tenure, you need to have a really great alternative to fall back on.

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