I’ve been doing lots of workshops about academic careers, doctoral study, publications, perfectionism, study habits etc, recently.
Noah Riseman (of Australian Catholic University) pointed out this article in the Chronicle of Higher Education to me, and it is well worth a read. Be honest with yourself when you read it.
My big take home lessons (in a deliberately blunt style):
1. Don’t wait around for someone to pat you on the back and give you wonderful opportunities / blank research funding cheques / book contracts / tenured jobs. If you’re not doing anything about this, you can pretty much assume no-one else is either.
2. Don’t delay by seeking perfection. Nothing you write will ever be perfect. Deal with it and get it out there. But don’t rush it all either. Hit the sweet spot (and I would add: be ready to accept that much if not everything we do at least in part reflects what we can do in particular times and circumstances).
3. Don’t mope and self-vicitimise in the face of failure and harsh reviews. Sure it will feel rubbish for a while. But if you’re not able to cope with criticism and rejection, academia probably isn’t for you. Sorry but that’s pretty much the size of it. And in case you doubt: I’m pretty happy to say I’ve been rejected by plenty of journals, research funders, and job panels in my time. Yes, it didn’t feel great when it happened. But no, I’m not embarrassed by it, or ashamed. Nor do I allow it to fuel self-doubt.
4. Be visible (and as per point 1, don’t expect others to go around shining the light on you), but be ready to step aside as personal and political storms pass.
5. Be flexible and coherent at the same time. Chances are the job that equals lecturing and researching on the topic of your PhD does not and probably never will exist. Be ready to go where the money is or jobs are. I moved from geography in secondary schools to a project about doctoral education, and now am researching health. But I can tell a coherent story about pursuing questions of learning, consistent methodologies, and developing theoretical approaches. Be ready to teach courses that aren’t in your direct area. It’s super-competitive out there so you can’t be precious. And you can’t be stuck in what was interesting / good for you at one moment in time. The world and academic disciplines will move (on) regardless of how much you still love your doctoral topic and paradigm.