Career choices that went against the grain
In academia, there’s this prevailing standard of the “right” way to do things in our career. Publish at the right venues, get the correct international experience, network with the important players, and work as much as possible. This way of doing things is modeled after the white, male, cis, able-bodied academic who has no care duties or has an invisible caretaker at home.
Overall, I consider myself successful in my career (I haven’t updated my online CV, but here is an old version). I measure my success in part by the traditional standards of getting funding, recognition, and publications. I also measure success in terms of how my students do after they graduated. I take particular pride in the fact that the majority of those who graduated under my supervision in Ecuador manage to continue their studies at good universities internationally.
Regardless of this “success”, I made a number of choices in my career that went against all good advice. I’ve listed them here, so that you can see that there is space for building the career you want with the boundary condition of the lifestyle you have:
- Ecuador: I moved to a teaching-oriented liberal arts college in Ecuador after getting my PhD. I kept a part-time (0.2 FTE at that time) post-doctoral position at the university where I got my PhD. Many considered this move “career suicide”. I’d wither away teaching the same courses over and over, and my research career would end. Instead, I gradually built down my course load as I could prove administrators the results of my research.
- Involvement with technical committees in the United States: If I work in Europe and Ecuador, why would I put volunteering time in technical committees in the United States? In the first place, I didn’t want to be joining committees in which our research group already had collaboration. In the second place, I found the building of connections and growing recognition in the United States to positive reflect on my career trajectory in Ecuadro.
- Review a lot: I love reading and I’m bad at saying no. So bad, even, that 2019 Eva reviewed 110 papers (I am not exaggerating). While reviewing a lot may be a bad use of my time, I enjoyed it. I’m doing less now because I simply couldn’t keep up with all the requests.
- Blogging during the PhD and beyond: I’ve been blogging and tweeting since the end of the first year of my PhD. You could argue that spending my time online is a waste of time. But, it’s something that I enjoy and a space in which I have found a sense of community.
- Focus on open access publishing: I’ve been submitting my papers as much as possible to open access publishers and have been posting preprints as much as possible. I’ve been foregoing other, more established, venues at times, so that I can make my work publicly available.
- Mothering: I’m a mother and my family is one of my top priorities. My availability for work is limited. I cannot take calls that coincide with dinner time. I do not travel much anymore for conferences. My priorities have shifted.
- Awards: Leaving my network in Europe to work in Ecuador meant that I wasn’t being considered for awards in my field in Europe. It took many years until I won a prestigious award – but in 2021 I got the IABMAS junior prize. It took time to build up recognition for my work.
How about you? Have you made career choices that went against all advice? Let me know in the comments below.