I don’t consider myself a great planner. I often enjoy unintended outcomes more than the predetermined. I love the happy discoveries of serendipity (even the word is a joy). Here’s to creativity sparked by reading, unexpected calls for papers, conferences and conversations with colleagues!
A ResearchWhisperer post by Tseen Khoo earlier this year made me rethink planning:
The value in planning your research career isn’t in the actual plan. It doesn’t lie only – or even mainly – in achieving the amazing goals you’ve set for yourself. It’s in the process of research planning itself …
The research dream plan is the one that you’d talk about with your career mentor…
It can be extremely difficult to keep research dreams alive and on the radar when beset by the metrics-obsessed nature of contemporary academia. But to not have these research dreams is in itself a tragedy. As renowned author Diana Wynne Jones says, “it is better to aim for the moon and get halfway there than just to aim for the roof and get halfway upstairs.”
Linking planning to dreaming? I can do that. French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1987) suggested that we can accomplish nothing against our dreams. He went so far as to say that neglecting dreams can result in annihilation. His example is an artisan working with clay who interweaves dreams and dexterity:
Take away the dreams and you stultify the worker. Leave out the oneiric forces of work and you diminish, you annihilate the artisan. Each labour has its oneirism, each material worked on contributes its inner reveries.
Hold that thought: the importance of inner reveries, and the risk to the self if these are ignored.
Two things prompted this post.
First, today I gave a welcome address to undergraduate students thinking about career options beyond their discipline. This allowed me to share my first career plan (become a mermaid), my side hustle (operating rides and dressing as a hunchback at Luna Park) and my love of dressing up, travelling the world, reading and writing.
Second, last week I facilitated a planning session with early career academics, the first of a series of monthly meetings where we will do some planning (rather than just talking about it). I’ve been thinking about planning (as opposed to doing it) for a long time. I’ve read lots of resources on planning in this time: The balanced researcher, How (not) to get ahead in academia, and Time for research. These are all practical guides, full of tips and templates, but, while useful, they didn’t really tell me anything I didn’t already know.
Surviving and succeeding as an early career academic takes a different approach. It focusses on capabilities that are equally valuable in and beyond academia and at any career stage: resourcefulness, relational agency, resilience, respectfulness, rest and recreation. Its creator Kathryn Sutherland also has an impressive collection of other resources freely available. The questions it asks are an excellent tool for reflection:
Who are your academic kindred spirits – people who think similarly or are doing similar work – and how much contact do you have with them? How could you find more such people?
Who are your mentors, and in what areas of your work (research, teaching, social, cultural, etc)? How do you nurture these relationships?
How do you demonstrate care for your students? For your colleagues?
Against whose criteria do you measure your success, and how does this make you feel at work and at home?
Great ideas for future posts here! These questions make space for dreaming as a part of planning. As Tseen says in the ResearchWhisperer post above, keeping dreams alive in academia can be difficult. How do you avoid stultification and nourish your inner reveries?