I was left with a distinct feeling of sadness, though, as I read through the advice Creemers offers in response to this given the bleak and egoist picture it portrays of both academia and of what is needed to succeed within it. This may be a product of having had a very different experience of post-PhD early career life. This might be a product of a different national or disciplinary context. I may have just been lucky with the jobs I’ve had and the departments I’ve found myself in. Or, it may just be a product of the Christmas season being upon us. But as a rejoinder, I’d like to suggest a more positive take …:
- Value your peers
- Be driven by interest and temper that with pragmatism
It’s likely that you’re going to have something like 35-40 years of work ahead of you when you get out of the PhD. Thinking in terms of what’s REFable etc only and so solely writing journal articles and grant applications is going to get pretty dull pretty quick. So, vary what you do, gain satisfaction out of pursuing what’s interesting, be part of your academic community and embody the sort of practice that you would like to see in others. In all likelihood, so long as there is a bit of self-awareness and pragmatism mixed in (i.e. ticking the big boxes first), you’ll be fine.
Also on this, the idea that once you’ve got a ‘proper job’ you’ll have more time for various requests is, well, a bit naive; it’s more likely the case that such requests will accelerate along with the expectations your employer has of you. So, you need to develop a more balanced / heathy / rounded approach from the start if you’re going to do this for 35-40 years.
- Recognize collegiality and act accordingly
The advice I mentioned above, received from an eminent figure, was delivered on the news I’d got a short-term lectureship. It was simply: ‘make yourself indispensable’. That might go against any kind of blinkered egoism that Creemers advocates. But there’s something in that – it got a lot of people on my side early on who wanted me to succeed. It meant that they didn’t want to lose me at the end of the contract I was on and tried to stop that happening. It meant one or two wrote me a nice reference. They also identified possible collaborations and invited me to be involved in things. They got back in touch when jobs subsequently came up and encountered me to apply. They read drafts of papers for me. They read drafts of grant applications for me. I reciprocated. Generally, it got a bunch of people on my side.
Yes, some are dicks and will try to take advantage. But in many cases, if you’ve set a positive tone / positioned yourself as a valuable colleague, it is more likely that others will try to to include and involve you, help you to get the chance to do something interesting or that you’ve not had the chance to do. It could be something as simple as someone in your department asking you to give a guest lecture on your specialism on their module as a break from the generic stuff you’ve been lumped with (I’m looking at you, methods modules out there). It might be a hand-me-down invitation to write something that will probably do more for your name circulating than theirs. It might be to be involved in a supervision committee as a 3rd or 4th supervisor. These are all small things that won’t be headline points on your CV. They rarely add up to REF-able publications or pounds and pence. But they’re a part of what being an academic is. So, by all means be wary, watch out for dicks, heed when others flag such dicks up for you, but don’t assume the worst of every invitation or request that a) isn’t from a ‘superstar’ and b) isn’t about a fairly myopic aspect of being an academic. Some of the time, at least, your colleagues will be trying to be collegiate and something interesting looking is just that!
- Be Nice!