Making your own career rules

Radhika Nagpal, a computer science professor at Harvard, has written a wonderful piece called “The Awesomest 7 Year Post-Doc or: How I Stopped Worrying and Love the Tenure Track Faculty Life.” It’s about maintaining good emotional hygiene in the academic environment. She writes: “It seems to me that at all levels of academia, almost regardless of field and university, we are suffering from a similar myth: that this profession demands – even deserves – unmitigated dedication at the expense of self and family. This myth is more than about tenure-track, it is the very myth of being a ‘real’ scholar.”

Her program:

  • I stopped taking advice.
  • I created a “feelgood” email folder.
  • I work fixed hours and in fixed amounts.
  • I try to be the best “whole” person I can.
  • I found real friends.
  • I have fun “now”.

Although the piece focuses on the particularly obsessive world of academic teaching and research, its insights regarding the cultivation of rational, personal expectations can be applied far and wide.

(h/t to Clarissa’s Blog)

A couple of final notes on mentoring

My posts below summarize and respond to the superb presentation given by Erin Dick at the International Association of Business Communicators World Conference in Manhattan last month.

To be honest, I had intended on *missing* this presentation, believing there was little for me to learn on the topic. In a spasm of self-awareness, though, I understood that my reluctance to go was based on arrogance – and arrogance means that I had grown too comfortable with my ways. I wondered, too, why I seemed afraid to subject myself to new insights on a theme so dear to my heart.

Fear can lead to poor mental hygiene.

I forced myself to attend by making a promise to do so to my friend Sarah Jackson, a fearless young journalist who herself will become a wonderful mentor one day. I am glad I went. I learned a ton – and found I have lots to work on.


When I was contemplating running for Chair of my department a number of years ago, I consulted my mentor at KwantlenDavid Wiens, asking him whether I’d be any good at this position. “You would,” he said.

I asked him why, expecting him to pay homage to my brilliant analytical and people skills.

“You like to work hard,” he said, and left it at that.

It was the best thing he could have said. David was a really good mentor.


Reposted from basil.CA

Mentorship without Friendship

The relationship between a mentor and a mentee need not be a friendly one.

During the discussion portion of Erin Dick’s IABC presentation on mentorship, I stood up and briefly described my own experience being mentored, as a writer and editor, by Jay Rosen and the late Paul Kurtz. Only after sitting down did I realize I had never spoken in public before about the aggressive and often unpleasantly challenging manner in which these two charismatic and relentless geniuses had addressed me back in the day. (Jay was my editor at SUNY/Buffalo’s student newspaper The Spectrum; Paul owned Prometheus Books Inc. and ran Free Inquiry magazine.) Neither passed out compliments – *ever*, to my memory; both passed along opportunities, though, to people who could put smart words on a page.

A mentor sees in her or his mentee a devotion that is shared – or that could be – to a craft, a topic, or to an art. (It is almost never a shared devotion to a person.)

Jay and Paul saw that I was devoted to the published page as much as they were, and that I could help put smart words there. That’s why they mentored me. They weren’t looking for friends.

I believe they saw I responded to antagonism by working harder, so hectoring and prodding – and pencil-throwing, from Paul – were what I got. And they received my best work. We had successful relationships, in other words, but not friendship.


I acknowledged to my IABC colleagues – who were, to a person, cheery and friendly – that the form of mentoring I had received was perhaps old-fashioned and also that it was not a form I have been able to, or even would want to, practice myself. I am much more low key than my mentors were, and I never hector or embarrass people. That said, my own students / mentees all know where my chief devotion as a teacher in a classroom and as an editor with a deadline lies: words on the page.

Friendship, if it happens, happens elsewhere, and later. I’m indifferent to that here and now.

5 Myths about Mentorship


In her IABC presentation Erin Dyck described four myths regarding mentorship:

  1. Mentorship is top-down. One’s placement in an organizational hierarchy does not, in fact, determine the kind of wisdom and experience one can give another colleague.
  2. Mentors should be from your own chosen profession. Many skills and insights are portable from one sector to another, especially those involving communication like conflict resolution and situation analysis.
  3. Mentorship should follow a clearly defined process with clear goals. It is outmoded today even to have a career goal that is wholly defined; technology and political economies are transforming both our options and our wishes. Mentorship should be improvisatory.
  4. Mentors and mentees should be close geographically. That this need not be true is a straightforward point but one worthwhile to mention nonetheless, especially when one hears (as one does too often) that the “best” communication is “face to face.” There is no “best” medium.

At the IABC presentation I got up and suggested that there be a fifth myth added to the list: The relationship between a mentor and a mentee needs to be a friendly one.  I will post more on this myth soon.