Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Awesomest 7-Year Post-Doc

This week a Scientific American Blog Post by Radhika Nagpal, professor of Computer Science at Harvard made a circulation among my academic Facebook friends, and I thought I'd share it with this community.

Her advice on how she "Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tenure-Track Faculty Life" can be summarized in the below seven things she did in her first seven years of her faculty appointment at Harvard:

          • I decided that this is a 7-year postdoc.
          • I stopped taking advice.
          • I created a “feel-good” email folder.
          • I work fixed hours and in fixed amounts.
          • I try to be the best “whole” person I can.
          • I found real friends.
          • I have fun “now”.

While I am not sure if her mindset is as easy to adopt in other subject areas (like astronomy) where the alternative/industry options are less plentiful and the transition out of academia is less obvious, I am happy to hear that someone who only works 50 hours a week was able to obtain tenure at Harvard.

I took a similar approach to my PhD program.  I was slightly older when I started graduate school at Berkeley, and decided that my days of pulling all-nighters, working weekends, not having a social life, and abusing my body were over.  I told my advisor from the beginning that I wanted to enjoy my PhD work and have a full and balanced life.  Luckily, he was supportive of this plan and had very realistic demands on my time and energy.  However, my desire to have this balance meant that I didn't publish as much, took longer (7 years) to finish my PhD, and ultimately felt less successful than my peers throughout most of my time at Berkeley (although that could have just been impostor syndrome, who knows).

To read more about Professor Nagpal's approach to tenure-track life check out Scientific American's Blog.