Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#59 The Next-Stage Approach for Preparing for an Academic Career


In preparing for an academic career, or really any post-graduate employment, it is wise to look ahead to some of the things you will be doing in the next position you want to occupy and see if you can't take on some of these duties while still a graduate student or post-doc. This Next-Stage approach is described in more detail below.

Rick Reis

UP NEXT: On Linking Research Grants to Teaching Evaluations

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In the Next Stage approach, you think ahead, look ahead, and to some degree act ahead of the stage you (and your future competition) are currently occupying. By doing so, you not only demonstrate your WILLINGNESS to assume the role of the position you are seeking, but also your READINESS to do so. Just as most of the best graduate students began taking graduate courses and/or conducting research as college seniors, you need to begin doing some of the things professors do while you are still a graduate student and postdoc. Today it is not enough to be outstanding in your current job, you must also demonstrate that you can be successful in the NEXT JOB for which you want to apply by actually PERFORMING in advance some of the activities and responsibilities that are part of that job.

Here are some areas in which demonstrating this "next-stage" competence would be important. No one expects you to demonstrate all of them. However, doing at least some of them will distinguish you from most of your competition, and within limits, the more you can do the better.

RESEARCH - In addition to having identified a dissertation or a postdoc research project that is compelling as opposed to just interesting, look for ways to engage in cross-disciplinary and multidisciplinary activities with faculty and students from other areas or departments - with the permission of your advisor or supervisor of course.

TECHNICAL REVIEWING - Find opportunities, both formal and informal, often for you to review papers, grants, and proposals written by others.

PROPOSAL WRITING - In addition to reviewing the proposals of others and contributing sections to your advisor's proposals, write your own proposals and grant applications for research that you want to do as a professor.

SUPERVISION OF OTHER STUDENTS- As you advance in your development as a graduate student or postdoc, find ways to play a more formal role in the supervision of other students, both undergraduate and graduate.

PUBLISHING - Coauthorship is fine, but make sure you publish at least one article in which you are the first author.

PRESENTATIONS AT CONFERENCES - Establish a record of giving technical presentations at conferences in which faculty and industrial researchers are present.

RELATIONS WITH INDUSTRY- Visit various research sites and give technical presentations, use equipment, samples, and other industry resources in your research, conduct joint investigations, publish with industrial collaborators, and consider internships and other forms of employment with industry or government laboratories.

TEACHING - Plan to acquire at least some experiences beyond those of a typical TA, such as giving lectures, covering sections of a class or even taking full responsibility for a course.

The key steps in the Next-Stage approach are to ask questions (think ahead), make observations (look ahead), and acquire experiences (act ahead) by putting yourself in the right places at the right times and tuning your antenna to the gathering of the right information. You can do this in a variety of settings, such as classrooms, laboratories, faculty offices, staff meetings, seminars (particularly with guest speakers from other schools), professional conferences, private discussions with students and faculty, and during visits to industrial and government R&D facilities. In all cases, the key question is: AM I LIKELY TO ENCOUNTER THIS SITUATION AS A PROFESSOR, OR FUTURE INDUSTRIAL SCIENTIST OR ENGINEER, AND IF SO, WHAT>CAN I LEARN FROM IT THAT WILL HELP ME TO DO BETTER PREPARE ME FOR SUCH A>ROLE?