Academics at any stage of their career benefit from thinking about how well they are positioned for success.
Academic success can be reviewed using a very easy tool: The Career T. This little model suggests that academics must perform across two broad domains of activity: by building and expanding expertise in their chosen field of knowledge (Depth); and, by sharing that expertise in various ways, or contributing to its broader use by others (Breadth).
The Career T is a very quick reviewing tool to assess your effectiveness and the suitability of your current career strategy. First, take a sheet of paper and draw a fat, large T-shape on the page. Start with the base of the T and note down all the area of expertise, core knowledge and talents that you possess. You can do this as a broad review of every area of your academic work, or focus more specifically on a particular part of your activities, such as teaching or research. Now, move to the horizontal space and note down all of the ways you have applied that expertise. This might include work roles, committees, projects, your publications… any other ways that you have translated your knowledge or contributed to the broader development of your community.
Once you have mapped your profile, take a good look at how it appears. You might consider:
- Do you have good evidence of roles and activities? Or have you kept beavering away on your depth without considering its translation? If your horizontal space is very limited, it is a clear signal that you need to act as a high priority.
- Are your activities diverse, showing how versatile you are? Or have you stuck too long on one role that does not demonstrate your many talents?
- Is there evidence of leadership i.e. taking ownership of projects?
- Can you show that you can work well with other people e.g. on committees or projects?
- Have you been setting stretch goals? Is it time to aspire to higher targets?
You can now use the Career T to help you plan your next steps by looking at the gaps in your profile. Then identify how you might address those gaps. Are there new roles or activities that you feel will supplement the profile that you have mapped? Identify the most beneficial and consider how you will segue to these new opportunities. Mentors, sponsors and models can help with ideas on how to achieve these goals.
Importantly, if you have been doing the same thing for more than two years (e.g. course coordination), it is time to think about handing over to another colleague and moving into a different role that showcases your skills in other ways. Building a balanced and challenging portfolio to show your depth and breadth is a useful way of ensuring you remain competitive and remarkable.
You can read more on career strategy in Debowski, S. (2012) The New Academic: A Strategic Handbook, Open University Press.