Tomorrow's Professor Msg.#76 The Next Step: Using the Future to Motivated the Present


Here is an interesting message from Eric Fairfield, president, Fairfield
Enterprises on how he, his students, and his employees make use of the
"next -stage" approach described in Msg. #59, "The Next-Stage Approach to
Preparing for an Academic Career.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: The Function of the Dissertation Proposal

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I have found that, for me and for my students, looking at the future 3 - 5
years out makes it easier to decide what to do in the present.

I began doing this "next-stage" looking seriously when I was a graduate
student. I asked myself what I wanted to do after I got my Ph.D., and the
answer was high quality research and teaching at a good university. To get
to a good university, I had to do a high quality thesis project and then do
an excellent job with a post doctoral fellowship.

Knowing what these next few steps were made it easier to make choices and
to work a little harder even when I did not want to. "Should I take
German, become a teaching assistant, repeat this experiment, reread this
manuscript again, and so on?"

As a professor, I realized that many of my students worked below their
capability, because, I believe, many of them did not have future images of
themselves as degreed scientists working at a job they liked. So I had
them visualize a real job that they liked and ask themselves, "What skills
would it take for me to be good enough to get such as job?" The answers
were, of course, different for each student; yet having the answers in mind
got them to work better on current tasks and to order the tasks well for

When I was a professor, I asked "What will life be like after I get tenure
and is it life I want?" At the time, the future seemed to consist of
endless grant writing for little money and never enough people and
equipment to do the multidisciplinary research that I liked the best. It
also seemed that becoming better teacher would not be rewarded in the way I
would hope. Analysis of the next stage told me it was time to consider
other possibilities.

Now I run a small company that makes biomedical instruments and software
and does consulting. I am actually teaching constantly, sometimes the
audience is a few people, sometimes it is hundreds. Topics range from laser
physics and molecular biology through return on investment and strategies
for intellectual property. Still, it is teaching because the object is to
present a well understood topic clearly and effectively to others. The
better a teacher I am, the more I feel rewarded. I am also an adjunct
professor and teach various graduate science or business courses when
possible. It is often tiring and difficult but it fits my skills well. I
have projected what this job will become in 3, 5 and 10 years. And I like
what I see.

I expect employees to do their own "next-stage" projections as well. With
such projections, together we can determine a career path, the skills
needed along the way, and how to enjoy the journey as much as we can. For
instance, many employees come with physical science or engineering skills
but want to learn a lot of biology or biophysics. We plan the next stages
so that they learn and the company benefits. The planning must be done
carefully if the employee effectively changes fields.

My "next-stage" approach may not fit everyone, but for me and my students
(informal and formal ), such analysis works quite well indeed!