Monday, November 25, 2019

Academic Archetypes and the Balance of the Personal and Professional

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There has been quite a bit of discussion on academic Twitter lately about the academic weekly schedule. Some academics are noting that there are some Uber academics who use excessive work as a badge of honor. This type of heroics is coming under a bit of criticism. Many of us in the profession have known the hero or heroine academic archetype. They are the ones who work crazy hours, publish more than anyone we know, and drive their students and colleagues hard. This is in contrast to the academic shirker archetype. Shirkers are the ones who show up for their classes and office hours, publish lightly, and don't want to get involved with service. Most of us fall on the continuum between the shirker and the hero/heroine archetypes.

Related to the hero/heroine and shirker continuum are the ego centered and martyr archetypes. The ego centered archetype academic is solely focused on himself or herself while the martyr archetype swoops in and tries to save the day for others--to their own detriment. They can get overly involved in faculty or student lives and often sacrifice their research productivity to take on major service roles or solve problems. We all fall on the continuum from ego centered to martyr. Some of us are more hero/heroine martyrs (spend tons of time on service), hero/heroine ego centric (spend tons of time on our own research), shirker martyrs (spend limited time at the university and lots of time on family/household issues), or shirker ego centric (spend limited time at the university and focus more on self development).

We all move in and out of these different archetypes of academic life depending on our professional and personal needs. For example, if you are going up for tenure, you might be more of a hero/heroine ego centric academic. However, if you are starting a family, you might more of a shirker savior (note, the term shirker denotes that you are a shirker at the university, not in life). I don't want anyone to think that I find it wrong to slow down a bit with publishing or other university activities to start a family. The line is a continuum and many faculty successfully balance the shirker and hero/heroine archetypes.

The point is that it is best for your career to not be stuck in any one of these extreme categories for too long. Indeed, if one defines success by a productive academic career and a happy personal life, the most successful academics that I know have tried to balance these four aspects (ego centric, shirker, hero/heroine, and martyr). They may have had a shirker year or two along the way, but they make up for it in other years with productive teaching, research, or service. Balance is the key.

One of the critiques on academic Twitter about the hero/heroine archetype in terms of Department life is that these types of faculty put tremendous pressure on untenured faculty to try to achieve at extremely high levels just at the time that they are thinking of starting a family and enhancing their personal life after a years in graduate school. I believe that highly productive senior faculty have a responsibility to mentor untenured faculty to guide them through this very stressful time. They need to communicate to them the need for balance. At the same time, untenured faculty need to understand that some senior faculty are extremely productive and that their level of productivity is not what is needed to attain tenure and promotion. It is also important to seek advice from chairs, deans, and external mentors who can help navigate the expectations at your institution. Tenure and promotion goals should not be based on the outliers of extreme performance but on actual department and university expectations.

Lord knows there have been times in my life when I've been a martyr, hero, shirker, and savior--usually not in the same semester. The ability to balance these academic traits is difficult, but I think it is important to acknowledge that these archetypes exist so that we can try to move from the extremes to live a happy academic and personal life. 

1 comment:

John Warner said...

I found this to be useful and very good for me personally. Well worth the time learning reading and using it in my class. Cumulative Case Study