Mapping Your Academic Career: Charting the Course of a Professor's Life.
Gary Burge has provided a valuable resource to those of us whose vocation is that of university or college professor. Drawing on decades working as a college professor, Burge has written a wise and easy-reading book full of sage advice for university faculty. Although professors are well prepared in their chosen disciplines, without a wise mentor, they are often unaware of the patterns that accompany the typical academic career.
Burge identifies the three primary "stages" of development in a scholar's career as follows (p. 23): Cohort 1 is made up of people who have finished their terminal degree and are working toward tenure (typically ages 28-38). Cohort 2 represents midcareer faculty who have been tenured or promoted and have acquired job security (typically ages 34-55). Cohort 3 represents senior faculty near the end of their careers (typically ages 50-70).
Burge identifies some of the most common opportunities and risks that are present within each cohort. The book is replete with stories of professors that exemplify certain patterns found within each of the cohorts (albeit with the disclaimer that the personal details have been changed). The characteristics he describes ring true to me, as I could frequently picture faculty I have encountered along the way who reflect several of the postures and situations he describes.
Burge identifies the traits of cohort 1 as core identity formation, developing peer relationships as well as student and college validation. He identifies the classic risks to this cohort as failures in teaching or scholarship, failing to assimilate into institutional mission and culture, being influenced by cynical peers, anxiety and loss of confidence, and failing to cultivate friendships. Burge wisely emphasizes the importance of a good mentor for those in this cohort. He also acknowledges some of the unique issues that can arise for women in academics. He identifies the primary goal for professors in cohort 1 as finding "security," whether that be in tenure or in a multi-year contract.
Cohort 2 professors are marked by growing maturity and confidence. Burge identifies the traits for this cohort under the categories of developing as a teacher, evolving scholarship, and "finding your voice." The risks he identifies for this stage include the cessation of professional development, egocentric behavior, and institutional dissonance. He also mentions issues that can arise with "hero development," when certain professors are elevated by the college as marquee faculty while other faculty begin to feel less valued and excluded from the "inner ring." Ultimately, he identifies the main goal for cohort 2 to be a sense of well-being, success, and ongoing validation.
Burge suggests that the main question characterizing cohort 3 is "will I find significance?" Some of the traits he discusses in this cohort include core identity issues, competency, and becoming a mentor or sage. He also talks about the importance of "embracing descent" as we end our careers and enter the last stage of life. Some of the pitfalls he identifies for this cohort include disengagement or disinterest, self-absorption, reclusive behavior, and technology anxiety. Burge also describes the issue of the perpetual adolescent faculty member who never grows up--socializing with students as if they were one of them and dressing like a nineteen-year-old. He reminds us that students are seeking faculty to be friendly adults, not friends. He concludes that faculty in this cohort should endeavor to end well, content with our contributions and a sense that it has all been worth it. The chapter includes an addendum with some practical advice about retirement.
Burge's references draw heavily from the field of psychology as well as reports, journals, and books on higher education. Burge is insightful in how he maps general principles in adult developmental stages onto the career trajectory of a professor. One thing that I found disappointing was the minimal time spent discussing a Christian perspective on the vocation of a professor. I suppose I was expecting more theological insights on vocation from Burge, a professor of New Testament at Wheaton College. While he does reference a few resources on the vocation of a Christian scholar, these could have been woven much more explicitly into the insightful discussions throughout the book.
As a midcareer professor who recently faced unexpected twists and turns in my career, I found the book quite helpful. Some of the opportunities and situations he described are ones that seemed to speak to me directly. I could imagine this book being one of the resources in a new faculty orientation program. In addition to new faculty, I suspect many faculty from other cohorts may find this a helpful resource as they reflect on their own academic careers.
Reviewed by Derek Schuurman, a cohort 2 professor who is currently a visiting Associate Professor of Computer Science Computer Science at Dordt College, Sioux Center, IA 51250.
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|Publication:||Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2016|
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