A few weeks ago while chatting with a friend, a student of mine came up behind me, trying to get my attention…”Dr. Cranley, I have a question for you, if you have a minute.” When I didn’t respond, she repeated, “Dr. Cranley”? I had quick internal dialogue reaction of, “Oh crap, that’s me!”, and tried not to act surprised as I turned around.
Needless to say, this is not the first time I did a double-take when someone referred to me as “Dr. Cranley”. This is not the only aspect of my transition from student to professional that I’ve been confronted with. Here are 7 things that can help you make this transition:
1. Learn (how) to say no
As a graduate student, saying “no” is not easy to do. When a faculty member asks you if you want to be involved in a project, co-author a manuscript or serve as a teaching assistant you feel obligated to say “yes”. Why? Many reasons. Professional development, furthering scholarship and the monetary compensation that is often tied to these responsibilities. What’s the issue then? These all seem worthwhile reasons to accept these offers. The issue is oftentimes, as graduate students, we take on more than we can handle which distracts us from our own goals. As we transition into professional academics, we have the opportunity and responsibility to turn down offers that we don’t have time for or don’t align with our personal scholarship. We also need to learn how to say no. Just because we don’t have the time to collaborate on an opportunity that is presented to us does not mean that we will not want to seek out these collaborations in the future.
2. Prioritize yourself
If you didn’t make this a habit in graduate school, start now. Prioritizing your professional goals (if you are fuzzy on what these are, see #3) and personal scholarship will help you on your path to becoming an independent researcher/academic. Additionally, learning how to prioritize your personal needs (sleep!) is just as important as your professional development. You are not going to be a successful academic if you are not taking care of yourself. Invest in yourself.
3. Understand your goals
Where are you wanting to go with your career? What are you wanting to do with your scholarship? When you look at your professional future, what do you see yourself doing? These are a small handful of the questions academics (& all young professionals) are faced with. If you have a destination in mind, you can map a more direct route to getting there rather than driving aimlessly until you figure it out. At this point in your career, if you are still unsure of what your professional goals are, it might be a good place to focus your energy. Keep in mind, you can always change the destination, but having achievable goals will help keep you motivated.
4. Find good mentoring
(Good) Mentors are an invaluable (and oftentimes, under utilized) resource. New Ph.D.’s are sometimes afraid of asking for guidance related to scholarship and professional development for fear that they might come across incapable. I’ve definitely been guilty of this. Stubbornness and pride get in the way. Once we overcome these fears of inadequacy, we have a lot we can learn from those who came before us. Additionally, if you are unsure of the answers to the questions in #3, mentors can help guide you on your professional path. They have been in the same place you are now. Your success, is their success. Don’t be afraid to leverage this valuable resource.
5. Redefine your definition of “balance”
Ah, the endless pursuit of work-life balance. The plague of academics. Balance (in my opinion) is an illusion. You have to learn how to thrive in the imbalance of academia. Deadlines, multi-tasking and juggling your personal and professional life make the pursuit of an idealized concept of balance something I find perpetually disappointing. What I’ve learned is that you have to determine what “balance” is to you, and it’s something that will be different for each of us. Let’s focus less on what others think balance should be for us and let that be something we determine for ourselves. Let’s redefine “balance” and instead I challenge you to find something that helps center you (see #6).
6. Have a life outside of academia
One of the keys to thriving in the imbalance is to have a life outside of academia. The inspiration behind this blog, is just this. I became a health disparities researcher because I am committed to social justice. My job is rewarding in many ways, but it is also full of challenges, social pressures and a never-ending to-do list. Find something that centers you. Running, spending time with friends, creative outlets, catching up on The Bachelor, or in my case, blogging. We are a diverse community with diverse interests that have more to give to society and others than just our research and teaching. We’re much more than just the letters at the end of our names.
7. Revel in your accomplishments
In academia, there is a lot of investment with very little (& slow) immediate reward. We apply for grants, submit manuscripts for publication, begin research collaborations, and find ourselves in a holding pattern while we wait for others to validate our endeavors. So when you finally receive that grant, your paper gets accepted for publication, or your collaboration is finally off and running, celebrate it. Pour yourself a glass of wine. Academic life can make you doubt why you became an academic in the first place. Validation of your personal scholarship can remind you of why you chose this life path in the first place. Do not dull your shine.