Tenure-track or 7-year postdoc? [Link]

by Chris Crockett on September 6, 2013

Earlier this summer, Radhika Nagpal, a Professor of Computer Sciences at Harvard, wrote an article at Scientific American that resonated with a lot of academics. In her piece, The Awesomest 7-Year Postdoc or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life, Dr. Nagpal describes how she decided to ignore all the typical tenure-track advice and play by her own rules. Forget 80-hour work weeks, saying “yes” to every committee invitation, and getting nominated for every award possible. Rather than risk burning out or giving up, she went a third route “which is covering your ears and making up your own rules.” In short, she threw out the rule book and lived by the mantra:  this is a seven-year postdoc.

I’ve enjoyed my seven years as junior faculty tremendously, quietly playing the game the only way I knew how to. But recently I’ve seen several of my very talented friends become miserable in this job, and many more talented friends opt out. I feel that one of the culprits is our reluctance to openly acknowledge how we find balance. Or openly confront how we create a system that admires and rewards extreme imbalance. I’ve decided that I do not want to participate in encouraging such a world. In fact, I have to openly oppose it.

As another academic year starts, it’s probably worth revisiting this advice. If you’re on the tenure track, what are your coping strategies? Let’s hear it in the comments.

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