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Are You A Courageous Academic?

Academic Coaching is a relatively new phenomenon. When I started in Academia in the early 90s, no Academic coaches existed. However, over the last 5 years, the academic coaching landscape has certainly changed.

After 40 years in Academia, I witnessed firsthand how Academia has become more challenging to navigate due to fewer research dollars, fewer job opportunities, diversity issues, internal divisions, and strife.  

I have seen how Academia does not adequately mentor individuals throughout their careers. Additionally, there are built-in conflicts of interest for the individual who wants to

move up the career ladder. 

This is why, even though I mentored students throughout the years of my career, I knew I wanted to do academic coaching after leaving Academia, 

Coaching academics has given me a new respect for individuals who take the time to look at something new and uncharted and then take the plunge. It always makes me smile when an administrator steps up to the plate and uses department funds to pay for one of their department academics to receive coaching. That takes courage. Courage to step outside the staid and sometimes archaic boundaries of Academia and, perhaps, even the current thinking of their University. 

This month's blog is devoted to the reasons individuals have told me they won't consider having an academic coach. It's an interesting list because it speaks to how thoughts, beliefs, and perspectives can stop someone from making strides in their career. 

1) I get mentoring from my University; I don't need outside help.

True, most Universities now assign mentors to junior faculty to help get them through renewal/promotion/tenure processes (RPT for short). However, every University has a built-in conflict of interest situation inherent in the RPT process when a mentor is also involved in evaluating and voting whether their mentee gains RPT. Additionally, even after RPT, faculty are not done with their career.

I believe a within-department mentor is a good idea because that mentor should know how things work within the department and which landmines the junior faculty member needs to know in their RPT quest. 

However, this within-department mentor arrangement is a two-sided coin situation because, at some point, the mentor will be tasked with being part of the evaluation of their mentee. This is akin to asking the judge overseeing a court case to mentor a defendant as they go through trial. 

Additionally, how comfortable can a junior faculty member be when discussing difficulties with a departmental mentor, knowing that the same mentor will determine their RPT? In my early years as a faculty member, I wanted my colleagues to view me as a fully functioning faculty member, not one filled with doubts and questions about what I was doing.  

2) I can't afford to have an Academic Coach.

Some of you may remember the 1970s Fram oil filter commercial where the auto mechanic said, "Pay me now or pay me later." This is the point: Not having an academic coach may be even more expensive if you don't get RPT. 

Paying out of your pocket for coaching shows a commitment to your career and sanity. However, your Academic department and/or College may have faculty development funds available to pay for coaching.  

3) I'm not up for RPT soon, so I don't need coaching.

You may find yourself in a place in your career where you don't see any career change in the future. You may be feeling quite comfortable. If that's where you are, hang on to your hat because the only thing that is constant is change, and there is always change happening in Academia.

Whether transitioning from associate to full professor, into administration or moving on to another university, having a game plan can help you take stock of where you are and what you need to do to be prepared for the next transition. And trust me, there will be another transition! 

4) I have my career under control. I don't need to talk to anyone.

You may believe that you don't need to talk to anyone about your career; however, if you don't feel comfortable discussing your career with others, rest assured that others are speaking about you and the job that you are doing, especially in the context of your RPT application. 

If you believe you have everything under control, wait and see how your career does or doesn't progress. We all need help sometimes. How you perceive the reasons for receiving support and what it can do for you can make a world of difference in your career.  

5) I've got friends in Academia who can help me.

It's great to have friends in Academia. Friends can provide a good perspective and be a network of colleagues to talk to. However, your friends may not have the career perspective, experience, or personal interest to help you move forward.

Think about it this way. Let's say you love golf and want to improve your golf swing, which can help you win the golf game on your weekend outing with friends. Do you go to one of your golf buddies who has the same handicap as yourself (who you want to beat) for helpful tips or pay a professional PGA golf pro to help you improve your game?

It's the same thing in your career. An external academic coach helps individuals look at their careers from an unbiased, external point of view in total confidence with their best interests in mind. You want someone who has not only gone through but has participated in the process, most ideally as an administrator who has had to make those RPT decisions.In fact, it should be a red flag if you interview an academic coach and find that they weren't in Academia very long, never went through RPT, come from a non-science background, or don't have any administrative experience with personnel decisions.

Deciding how you navigate your career is up to you. Do you want someone on your team with an external perspective to guide you through Academia's playing field, or go it alone? We often work with departments that pay for coaching for their faculty.If coaching can help you, talk with your department head. You may be surprised to see how willing and pleased they are to see your initiative.Ultimately, the choice and your career success are yours.

Keep Moving Forward



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