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This a good list, but perhaps ironically, I find most academics DON'T meet (3) - quite the opposite really. I do agree it would be helpful and ideal if (3) is meet, but most academics I know have succeed in spite of being anything but the type of person who doesn't care about success. This is probably why I know so many unhappy academics. One of my academic mentors is somebody very successful by any standard of the profession. However, he was telling me how for him rejection has never gotten easier, and he still (after 20 years as a TT professor) feels a constant need to impress and is so dejected after a journal rejection that he can't work for the rest of the day. This might be a bit extreme, but seriously I know a lot of academics who have made it but yet still seem to have a cloud of unhappiness that never leaves because they never really feel like they are succeeding. I continue to try and not be this person, but it's hard.

Trevor Hedberg

I would propose an amendment to #3. Rather than not having to feel like you're succeeding, you simply have to feel like success is not defined by the ratio of successes to failures. In fact, ideally I imagine you wouldn't give any weight to failures: all that would matter is the total number of successes.

To illustrate what I mean, imagine going to an empty gym to practice free throws. You could set two different kinds of goals to structure your practice. One would be to shoot a set amount and shoot a certain percentage (e.g., make 80 out of 100 attempts). Another would be to simply aim for making a total number of baskets. In the second case, the number of misses doesn't directly affect whether your practice was successful -- whether it took you 150, 200, or 300 attempts to make 100 free throws doesn't affect whether you met your goal. If you made 100 free throws during your session, then you succeeded.

In academia, I think you have to adopt a standard of success similar to what's depicted in the second case if you want to maintain a feeling of being successful. If doesn't matter how many failures you accumulate; what matters is your total number of successes. So going 2/5 on successful journal submissions is not as good as going 4/20 on them. No one cares about the number of rejections you get, so you have to adopt an attitude of not caring about them either. That's easier said than done, but it's possible.

Pendaran Roberts

From my experience, I think a sixth item should be added: you can survive without a job for a year or more while you focus on your work.



I think that depends where you live. At a number of locations in the US one can find work as an adjunct that is tough, but enough to survive on. And while it is hard to publish much while adjuncting, you can get teaching experience which is immensely helpful in getting a TT job. I know a number of people who got TT jobs after adjuncting full time.


You must enjoy, or at least not mind teaching.


I have been teaching for 20 years. I think it is imperative that you do more than "not mind teaching". Perhaps at heavy research schools where teaching can be avoided that may be a fine attitude, but none of us at regular colleges want a colleague who just does not mind teaching.


I would hope even those at research schools have a moderate passion for teaching. It is a significant part of the job, wherever you work. Not to mention the kids are paying a whole lot of money for their education. Anyway, I have a research postdoc, fwiw (2 years with no teaching duties). I was letting others know what I have seen work for some. I do indeed, however, like teaching, and somewhat worry that my time away won't look great for teaching schools. (which is honestly the type of job I have a better shot at landing).

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