“You have to ask yourself, ‘What kind of academic do I want to be?'” That was what my good friend, confidant, and unofficial work/life advisor Dr. Peguero said to me during a telephone conversation we had in 2016. I was in the home stretch toward defending my dissertation, and was having a bit an existential crisis. I had already secured a tenure-track position in a teaching institution, but was stressing over a grant proposal I was trying to complete, as well as wrapping up revisions on two publications. I was also finalizing the paperwork for two college events I was organizing, as well as some other college service. 2016 turned out to be a super busy year, and 2017, as I was officially Dr. Leyro, had not slowed down.
Teaching, speaking engagements, writing, college service, grant proposals, trainings, and conducting a couple of research studies, I have been trying to do it all. Some of you might relate: once we become “Dr. So-and-So” the tenure-clock starts ticking, and the goal posts change. The hamster-wheel shifts several gears and it’s all about publishing, college service, and pedagogy. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am happy and love everything I do. But after a while fatigue sets in, you get super-tired from pushing yourself constantly and eventually all this will take its toll. This is particularly true for those of us who identify as “activist scholars,” or who try to engage in research that hopefully will impact public policy, or who have ambitions of achieving the highest echelons of the academic world – you might be all of the aforementioned or just one or two of the above. So how do you achieve all that you must (and want) to attain without burning out? How do you exercise “self-care” while at the same time maintain ambition? Is it possible?
But do we *have* to do it all? Can one be an educator at a primarily teaching institution (with a heavy teaching load) and still be respected as an academic? Can one conduct studies without raising lots of grant money and still be respected as a researcher? Can one exist as a college professor at a teaching institution and still be respected as a scholar?
So…”What kind of academic do I want to be?” When Dr. Peguero posed that question to me, he was pointing out that many of us try to do it all, but at the core, there is generally one facet of academia that attracts us more than the others. For some of us it’s publishing, for others it might be engaging in research, others are more activism focused, and are more engaged in college service. And what my friend/adviser/mentor was trying to get me to see is that it’s okay to lean toward one of the above than others. We have to embrace what we are good at and enjoy more and accept that in order to be happy and truly successful in academia, we must learn which is best for us. Because at the end of the day, you can’t do it all
Now, this is not to say that you cannot be a great educator with stellar college service and never publish or engage in research. It also does not mean that you cannot be a kick-ass professor who does lots of activist research that impacts public policy. Nor does it suggest that there is only *one* path to the highest levels of academic excellence. What it does mean, however, is that you cannot expect to spend months completing big-money competitive research grants (and get them), and simultaneously work on getting 4+ articles published every year and engage in activism and hold several speaking engagements a year and grade 150+ papers a semester – without burning out. And I’m not even calculating parenthood or romantic partnerships or other real-life realities into the equation! You might be able to pull it off for a while, but it’s just not sustainable. We are not machines, and no matter what your institution dictates, you cannot sacrifice your mental well-being for that coveted promotion. Because then we will be living in precarity (see this article on precarity).
At the end of the day, it’s about our mental well-being. I have emphasized in my previous posts the fact that PhD students experience high rates of mental and emotional breakdowns, as do professors. We have to push back on the hamster wheel and insist that we can be great academics and scholars and researchers without having to be superheroes.
I am fortunate to know some pretty amazing scholars and academics. I count several superstars as my friends – not just people who I have met at conferences, I’m referring to folks I have a personal connection with. And there is a similarity among all of them: each of them is a master as their craft – a focused one: they are expert researchers, or superb writers, or amazing educators. And because of their focus, they have also achieved success in other realms. Granted, I’m sure they went through their own reflective self-evaluative process and came to a decision of who they want to be. I know I am happy where I am at the moment, because where I teach I am allowed to be me: a scholar activist who gets to work with so many amazing inquiring minds. But I am still processing…doing lots of self-reflection and inward analysis as I try to find the right balance.
What about you? Can you relate? Are you finding the right balance? What kind of academic do you want to be?