For two decades, Academic Career Coach Mary McKinney, Ph.D. has helped hundreds of university professors develop their career skills, achieve tenure and lead balanced, rewarding lives.
The pandemic has affected professors, along with people around the world, in numerous, negative ways. With the possibility of life-threatening illness, professors have had to switch to online teaching and to engaging students in new ways. Universities are facing financial problems and this is being passed on to professors in the form of hiring freezes, increased teaching loads, reduced internal funding and the threat of furloughs or even job losses. Anxiety triggered by uncertainty is pervasive.
Successful Academic Career Coaching can help professors with the challenges of COVID. To begin with, academic career coaching can provide solutions for the emotional and practical difficulties of working from home. For professors living alone, finding ways to overcome isolation may be essential. In contrast, professors with young children need special tactics for coping. Finding ways to work productively and keep scholarship on track, while having reasonable expectations and healthy habits, are primary academic career coaching goals. Many coaching clients find that regular appointments provide an outlet for distress, an opportunity to brainstorm solutions and a prompt for personal development during a challenging time.
Successful Academic Career Coaching can help professors develop effective writing habits that lead to increased publishing. These practices include short daily writing sessions, allowing first drafts to emerge imperfectly but quickly, and asking colleagues to review later drafts before the manuscript is sent to journals. Many academics, accustomed to stressful writing binges under anxiety-producing time pressure, gain control over their writing habits and meet self-determined deadlines with increasing ease. Writing often becomes mildly pleasurable, or at least neutral, rather than painful.
Maintaining writing productivity during the pandemic is especially hard. Anxiety levels may be high and self-discipline is challenging at home, with less stimulation and fewer natural transitions in the day. Academic career coaching can help break writing projects into small, manageable units which, when combined with scheduled down time, may prevent burnout.c
Most professors who begin Successful Academic Career Coaching feel overwhelmed by daily tasks and research goals. During the constraints imposed by COVID, without the structure of an office and natural physical breaks provided by moving from activity to activity, time management becomes more challenging. To gain control of one’s schedule, a first step is to examine career priorities and determine how many hours per week can be allocated to various aspects of research. Most professors spend much more time responding to emails than writing manuscripts. Coaching helps shift the daily focus so that professors act based on their goals rather than react to external demands.
Many professors, despite being creative and brilliant, struggle with organization and maintaining a consistent schedule. For those who find time unmanageable, regular coaching sessions can provide the accountability that helps keep them on track. During the pandemic, creating a reliable schedule can be especially daunting for professors with children. Without full-time childcare, with K-12 online school, with many family members trying to work in a limited space, the stresses can be overwhelming. Coaching can help develop a plan, impart coping skills and keep expectations realistic. Steady progress, even if incremental, is a major accomplishment during these times.
Some professors seek academic career coaching because of the stress and potential career hindrance of dysfunctional departments or problematic university administrations. Navigating toxic work environments is essential both to protect opportunities for promotion and to maintain mental health. Having a safe, objective and confidential place to discuss political problems can help stabilize emotions so that professors can maintain scholarly productivity.
Successful Academic Career Coaching has helped with obstacles such as gaslighting, racial or sexual microaggressions, blatant acts of prejudice, departmental feuds based on research divisions, unreasonable demands for service, growing teaching loads or escalating publishing expectations. Academic career coaching has helped many professors survive noxious situations and, if they choose, helped others find better academic positions.
Financial difficulties resulting from adaptations to COVID have created an administrative crisis at many universities. This uncertainty is then passed on to professors, unsure of what, how and who they will be asked to teach. During these taxing times, Successful Academic Career Coaching can provide a safe outlet for fears, offer tips for stress management and facilitate problem solving for coping with changes.
Putting together a professional, targeted university job application makes the difference between getting an interview and getting passed over. For two decades, Successful Academic Career Coaching has helped aspiring academics craft effective CVs, persuasive cover letters and compelling research and teaching statements. Applications are individualized for each academic position. When applicants are invited for interviews, a coach can review possible questions and responses, conduct a mock interview and discuss ways to make the best visual impression online. This includes tips on lighting, background, physical appearance, pitch and pace of speaking. A key skill includes navigating questions from several people during the same interview.
Fallout from the pandemic has led to the most difficult hiring environment this century. Given the COVID-related changes in higher education, job seekers need to demonstrate their proficiency with online teaching and to show hiring committees how they can bring long term value to the institution. Preparation is the key to successful interviews
Significant problems with procrastination can threaten an academic’s career. All professors tend to put off some tasks, whether grading, beginning an article or answering unpleasant emails. However, when pervasive procrastination interferes with the achievement of reasonable goals, intensive coaching may be needed.
The most common consequence of procrastination is a limited rate of scholarly productivity, and work may only get done under extreme deadline pressure. Tasks without concrete external deadlines, like journal articles, may remain in unfinished limbo, sometimes for years. Understanding the origins and causes of chronic delay is a first step. Then insight can be combined with action to develop new habits. Improving self-discipline is sometimes a slow process but the potential benefits are great. As professors become more productive, self-esteem increases and mood improves.
For chronic procrastinators, working at home during the pandemic can aggravate bad habits. Successful Academic Career Coaching reduces time-wasting practices and helps form better work patterns. As professors learn to follow scheduled work sessions with healthy rewards, the anxiety from guilty avoidance falls away.
Attention to detail, rigorous scholarship and high standards are important qualities of a successful academic. Perfectionism, however, can lead to paralysis. The most glaring example of debilitating perfectionism is writers’ block. At the edge of awareness, writing nothing may feel safer than writing anything short of supreme brilliance. This attitude makes it agonizing to begin, painful to continue and almost impossible to finish. Unsubmitted manuscripts can’t be judged. They also can’t be published.
Another version of perfectionism is overwriting – the inability to leave things out. Hanging on to every detail slows productivity because initial drafts must be cut (and cut again) to be publishable. Successful Academic Career Coaching can help ease the relentless demands of perfectionism. Professors develop perspective about their work and can judge more realistically when a manuscript is ready to submit.
Another form of perfectionism is trying to attain unrelenting high standards for every task. Academics suffering from pervasive perfectionism are both exhausted and unproductive. With coaching, greater efficiency can be brought to tasks such as responding to emails, reviewing journal articles or writing letters of recommendation. When balancing numerous responsibilities, it is important to decide what amount of effort is good enough. Quality time and a fresh mind must be reserved for scholarship.
Preparing for tenure review is a frequent reason for seeking faculty coaching. During the uncertain times triggered by COVID, assistant professors going up for promotion must get high teaching evaluations, fulfill service requirements, stay on good terms with colleagues, gain adequate funding and publish numerous, well-placed articles or a book. Successful Academic Career Coaching provides needed information about the tenure process, helps lower anxiety levels and increases the odds of success.
First, the candidate must understand all facets of the specific university-wide expectations for tenure. Next, assistant professors need to understand departmental politics and make plans to placate potential detractors. The main coaching focus for many tenure track professors is to complete manuscripts and submit grants. Finally, crafting an effective tenure portfolio, that conveys a compelling and unique narrative, can make a positive difference in the vote. Over the years, Successful Academic Career Coaching has helped dozens of professors attain tenure.
Publish or Perish is the common phrase that is true for most academic careers. During the pandemic, when professors are working from home and coping with increased distractions, conducting research and sending out manuscripts may feel like a sisyphean task. People often begin Successful Academic Career Coaching with too many incomplete research projects in the pipeline. Among these projects, some need data analysis, many are partially written manuscripts and a few wait for the review of a coauthor. Getting the pipeline unclogged is a priority.
First, Successful Academic Career Coaching helps with a careful assessment of all unfinished research projects and establishes priorities. Next, collaborative problem solving defines concrete action steps and the order steps should be taken. Usually, professors work most efficiently on one or two manuscripts at a time, especially when other research projects are in the data collection or data analysis phase.
If professors are working on a book, Successful Academic Career Coaching can help break the project into manageable sections, aid in developing a book proposal, and structure time so that the rough draft can evolve even while some aspects of research are still being conducted. Maintaining morale is an essential ingredient of book writing.
Obtaining grants is helpful in the humanities, critical in the social sciences and imperative in the sciences. Successful Academic Career Coaching provides guidance based on a broad knowledge of funding agencies such as the NIH and NSF.
Establishing a timeline for preparing each grant is essential so that junior professors can finish a draft well before the deadline and get helpful feedback on the proposal from senior colleagues. In order to attain a large grant and make the all-important transition to Primary Investigator, assistant professors must master managerial skills such as developing a budget, assembling a research team, developing rapport with the program officer, and demonstrating how their research extends other findings in their field.
After grants are submitted, Successful Academic Career Coaching can help you cope with the anxiety-provoking waiting period. Having a first-time grant reviewed rather than triaged is an accomplishment, and most funded grants have been submitted two or three times. Whether or not grants are funded, Successful Academic Career Coaching provides perspective, encouragement and guidance for future funding efforts
College teaching poses distinct challenges during the COVID epidemic. With the prevalence of online classes, professors must revamp course materials and find new ways of engaging students. New technologies complicate encouraging participation and conducting group activities. Even before the pandemic, Successful Academic Career Coaching helped professors prepare and deliver college classes in an effective manner. With too little class preparation, students suffer; with too much, scholarship suffers. Balancing the demands of teaching with other career responsibilities is a core component of becoming a successful academic.
Juggling teaching responsibilities with other aspects of academia is even more complicated during the pandemic, when students are stressed from isolation or anxious about potential illness. During this time, professors may need to be more accommodating than usual when students are distracted, erratic or absent. As well as being understanding of student weaknesses, academics need to be more accepting and forgiving of their own imperfections.
Times of transition present opportunities to develop and refine career goals. Assistant professors use academic career coaching to outline a clear research trajectory, plan funding goals and manuscript projects to achieve tenure.
Once tenure is secured, associate professors can use experienced, objective guidance to craft an individualized career path. Full professors may examine whether and how to pursue administrative positions such as becoming chairs or deans. Academics near the end of their careers may wish to examine their legacy, commit to final scholarly projects and plan how to transition, often gradually, to retirement.
If people are unhappy at their current institution, Successful Academic Career Coaching may help decide whether and where to apply for other academic positions, or even to leave academia. For professors at all career phases and levels of job satisfaction, fine tuning goals can increase personal meaning and fulfillment.
Many professors are overwhelmed by the number of tasks they face each day, and yet find it difficult to say “No” to new requests. Successful Academic Career Coaching can help set priorities and limit commitments. Examples of managing responsibilities include setting healthy boundaries with students, learning how to decline additional service demands, turning down requests to speak, reducing conference attendance and scaling back on research projects. Being overwhelmed is caused not only by external pressures, but also by the difficulty of passing up enticing opportunities. Successful Academic Career Coaching can provide perspective and remind academics to think through what saying “yes” will entail in the long run. Even though they know it is impossible, some professors want to please everyone. Learning ways to gracefully decline requests can help preserve time for research priorities.
During COVID, when all activities take place at home, the days tend to blend together and boundaries tend to blur between work and the rest of life. Long hours don’t necessarily translate into greater productivity. Often, efficiency is maximized by interspersing shorter writing and research time periods with breaks for exercise, household duties or relaxation. In most cases, a rigid expectation of spending eight hours in front of a computer is unrealistic. Coping with the stress of the pandemic, the tedium of being in the same space continuously and the greater family demands that many people face, shorter work days are more reasonable. When coaching helps professors adjust their expectations, productivity is often increased.
During COVID, academics who live alone need to fight isolation. They need to schedule times to spend with friends, both virtually and through safe, in-person visits. Academics with children are frequently torn by the demands of work and family. They need help managing anxiety and guilt as they find ways to juggle realistic compromises. Safeguarding health, both physical and mental, is essential.