New Year Resolutions for Academics

Another holiday season has come and gone. For some of us academics, we used the winter break as respite following a busy fall semester. Others may have used the time to catch up on writing and research tasks. As friends and family members use the New Year as a time to make resolutions for life improvements in 2018, such as lose weight or exercise more, academics may find themselves applying the practice of resolution setting to our work. Here are some basic goals that I have set for my career during the next year.

1. Stand up more!

The last year has been particularly productive for me, in terms of manuscript and grant writing. This has been great for my CV, but not as much on my waistline. It has also resulted in chronic back pain. We all know the dangers of sitting down for hours each day at our desks and in our cars. In fact, even for those who exercise every day, there is increased risk of cardiovascular disease from extended periods of sedentary work. Why do we continue to do this at the expense of our physical health?

So, for my top resolution in 2018, I have set the goal of standing more. To facilitate this goal I switched to a stand-up desk. I also plan to use the kitchen counter more as a desk when I'm at home, rather than my office desk or kitchen table.

To further work on this goal, I'm considering a purchase of a Wurf Board or anti-fatigue mat to experience even more benefits from increased standing. If anyone has feedback on these products, all advice is welcome!

2. Remember that my work is more than my research.

I love working at a research-focused institution. I attended all research institutions during my higher education, I achieved tenure at my first faculty position at a research institution, and I made a mid-career transfer to another research institution, where I am currently undergoing tenure review. I love writing and conducting research. However, I become frustrated and fatigued when I loose sight about the other activities that are part of my career.

There are some weeks when I have a lot of grading or extra meetings that take me away from writing activities. Despite putting in a 40 or more hour workweek doing these other activities, I still will tell myself, "I didn't get any work done this week!" Am I alone here?

Therefore, I will start practicing more mindfulness about the other activities that make up my career. This may involve excitement over achieving committee goals or taking more pride in my teaching activities. I don't plan to conduct less research, but increase my value of other activities.

3. Re-evaluate career goals and make them more flexible.

For much of our early careers, we have others providing their input about our career goals. During our doctoral programs, our advisors may steer us toward or away from certain positions that we are interested in. On the tenure track, the guidelines for tenure and promotion dictate our goals. At research institutions, we're told that the ultimate goal is the R01 or similar grant. Does it always have to be?

Focusing only on larger grants can result in burnout as the competition for them increasingly becomes fiercer. I especially experienced this after having a large NSF grant application rejected last year. It received positive feedback, but my application was one of 400+.So, I'm re-evaluating my goals. I found a R21 funding announcement that fit the goals of the unfunded NSF grant. I am scaling back the project and hope that it is more competitive for a smaller funding mechanism. I also established a new goal of learning how to better interact with grant program officers. While working on the R21 grant, I have also applied for a small internal grant for a proposed project that could lead to an interesting line of research, but I also thought would be a fun, small project to pursue.

I've also decided to branch my work more into the community. So, I'm networking with legislators and community leaders to put my research into practice. In November, I gave a presentation on dementia to a group of family caregivers in Tuskegee, Alabama. At the end, they gave me a standing ovation. When was the last time that happened at a national conference? It felt pretty good.

Perhaps focusing too much on the large grants at this point of my career made me lose sight on what makes me the happiest about my job. I still will pursue the larger grants, but will keep my career goals flexible to help me be more successful and happier.

For now, I think that three resolutions is enough. What are your resolutions? Write more? Write less? Be a better teacher? Feel free to share them - them may inspire others to make improvements in their careers!

Need help in your career? Contact Nicole today to see how she can help you evaluate your career goals, make career changes, or just get feedback on work-related issues. She offers personalized consultation services at an affordable price.

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