Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Long Term Planning

I have been asked about long term plans. They are, of course, a good idea in general, but they ultimately depend on specifics related to your own project and life situation. So what I say here will perhaps be a bit abstract. One element in a long term plan to develop your academic English, for example, would be an extended stay at an English-speaking institution. But not everyone is free to just pick up and go overseas for a year. With that sort of thing in mind, then, let me see if I can say some useful things about the longer term.

I think it is important to ensure that your long term plans extend beyond the terms of your current contract. In fact, that may be how we should define "long term". If you are a PhD student, your planning should not end with the submission of your thesis. You should be expecting to go on to a postdoc position, an assistant professorship, or a career in industry. And that means that you should be planning to apply for those jobs well before you finish.

In most funding systems, there will be an annual or semi-annual deadline for research grant applications. You want to make sure that you have set aside time to think about your next project and apply for the resources to carry it out during the period when you are probably thinking mainly about finishing your thesis. Do not let yourself believe that you should only be thinking about your thesis. Your thesis is a step on a longer road. A big step, yes. But just a step nonetheless.

Remember that you are not inventing a project with the aim of convincing a specific research foundation to pay you a salary. You are looking for a foundation that will fund your research agenda. That means that you are ultimately just sending them a description of yourself along with an excerpt from your long term plan.

As with publishing, you should expect rejection. So have an up-to-date curriculum vitae on file to send out to whatever jobs/grants seem relevant. Apply often and as a matter of course. While there will be some fine adjustments to make in each case, most of the work of writing each application is already done because, like I say, you are just telling those who might fund or employ you what you (already) plan to do with your time. Don't take it personally if they tell you they had someone else in mind. Don't let a single rejection cause you to "rethink" your long term research objectives.

I know that the career-side of academia often constitutes some rather challenging "identity work". One reason for this, however, may be that you are trying to sell who you are right now to whoever will employ you immediately. If you start early, by contrast, and always keep your long term goals in mind, your career trajectory may offer a much smoother curve. A paid position will then be exactly what it should be: not an end in itself but merely the means to achieve a greater purpose. Your job simply provides the conditions under which you satisfy your intellectual curiosity.


Robert said...

"Don't let a single rejection cause you to "rethink" your long term research objectives."

I think this is the best, and as a consequence (most impossible to follow) advice for a young researcher. Maybe if you do rethink your project it's because, deep down, you aren't that committed to it because, deep down, you know it's not that great.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Very true. I think there is a general issue here. If you are too easily pushed around by editorial criticism or encouragement (including CFPs), so that your project is always (it appears to you) being touched at the root, then you simply haven't done enough research yet.

The trick is to feel criticism and encouragment like a tree feels the wind on its branches and the sun on its leaves. Over time it may develop a particular direction in its striving toward the sky, but it's not moving around a lot, and it's getting stronger and stronger in the trunk.

I don't know. Maybe that metaphor is too flowery. Oh no! Now, I've mixed my meta-phors. Oh double no! I've punned.

Robert said...

Sounds like we're getting into a metaphor-off!

I always think that criticising someone's research is the same as tidying someone else's room. Inevitably put things where you think they should go because you want to make the room better - you don't wnt the person to move out.

Thomas Basbøll said...

Might be fun to develop this one. It's not cool to steal someone's stuff while tidying their room. But it may give you some ideas for what to get for your own room, though it's hard to transfer elements from one total aesthetic into another.