Beki Grinter

What do you Love about your Job?

In academia, academic management on November 23, 2010 at 9:58 am

I am quite sure I am not alone when I say that feel so busy I don’t feel like I have much time for anything other than the long list of things that need to get done. But, I had a conversation with someone and he asked me what do I love about my job. I paused. I’ve told many people that being an academic at Georgia Tech has been my favourite job to date. (It’s not that I have not enjoyed my two previous jobs, just in summary not quite as much as this). In fact, i’d just said it again. I love been an academic. Why, came the reply. Pause. Er…

Why is it that I can easily enumerate the challenging parts. If I look at this blog I see a pretty sizable enumeration. So, this post is an attempt to address that.

Diversity in activities. The three elements of being an academic, research, teaching and service, mean that I have variety in my job. Most days I spend in some combination of the three. In the short term this can feel chaotic, in the longer term though it means that I am exposed to a variety of activities. I feel stretched by these activities, and that can and does mean learning (as I prepare, say, for another lecture in the new to me class I am teaching this semester).

Grant Writing. Grant writing pushes me to think about the important intellectual problems I want to solve, and articulate their import and the best conceivable approaches to solving them. After writing one I am almost always eager to get on with the research described within.

Writing. Writing takes time. I like the difference between what sounds good in my head and what reads coherently on paper. Setting things down on paper makes me realise how much more there is to structuring an argument than what is in my head when I start. I like the process of wrestling with text. I’d prefer not to have to do it more than once of course, but that is the way of reviewers!

Mentoring. Wow. I love mentoring. I’m not always sure that the people I provide advice too like it or find it helpful, but I love giving advice. It is humbling to be asked, always intellectually demanding and rewarding when in my mind I find the “right answer.” Sometimes, as I am sure my students know all too well, I have to talk-out-loud and through it to get to an answer.

Knowing the Mission. I worked for two companies both of whom would change their mission statements. I still remember spilling my coffee over the book that Lucent published to help me understand it and what the corporate values were (there was a poster included so that you could hang the concise edition on your cubicle wall). I remember wondering “how do I fit in?” What I like about academia is that the mission statement seems clear. Educate. That includes teaching, but also research. It involves the students, it involves the State and the public. Educate. Really simple, and when I see the students running from one class to another (in the 10 minutes that Georgia Tech allocates for this), there it is, mission statement alive. As I squeeze into thTech Trolley, there it is again.

As I look at this list, and I am sure that there is more it’s all about learning (research, teaching and even service). That’s the skill that our Ph.D. training emphasizes. Research in the short term can feel like a series of to-dos. Meetings. Grants to be written. Papers to submit to conferences and journals. Reviews. Rebuttals. Rejections. And of course other people’s validation of your ideas in each of these events. Perhaps that’s why reflection gets lost. I am driven to do what I do for a love of research. I guess the conversation was a reminder that I need to spend more time thinking about what it is that I am passionate about.

What about you?

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  1. Great post — nodding to all points, and especially:
    +1 for mentoring.
    +1 for grant-proposals-are-sometimes-enjoyable-and-useful.
    +1 for writing-is-fun.

    And, agreeing with your last paragraphs, the focus on the intellectual inquiry above all else is what makes it really excited. Wrote more here: http://www.ayman-naaman.net/2010/06/24/the-secret-life-of-one-professor/

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