Posted October 27, 2021
As a young scholar, I scrutinized academic processes. As a faculty member, student conversations provide mountains of topics of confusion or difficulty. I wrote informal notes to guide my advisees, and those were the seeds for several now-public articles.
In the summer of 2020, I was anguished by tragic societal events and resulting protests that shone a bright light on structural inequalities and biases that continue to produce unequal access to opportunity. Around the same time, Michael Lewis spoke persuasively about the value of coaching and the effects of unequal coaching access. My advising is coaching, but I was only helping a select group of students. I wanted to work at a larger scale and share best practices so that academic success doesn’t require access to insider information.
In addition to biases and racism, I worried about a second problem. Most scholars hide their detours, failures, and fears while highlighting their achievements. Competitive graduate education and faculty environments almost require this behavior. I have done it myself. But concealed shortcomings are corrosive for students who perceive their role models to have led failure-free lives.
If my writing provides awareness or insight that helps you reach your goals, or be a little less anxious throughout your journey, I will consider this effort a success. I also want you to be efficient with your professional work. High-quality and impactful work should be the goal for all scholars. There are no bonus points for taking a path of greater suffering to get to the same final destination.
I especially hope to contribute to greater equity of access to education and research opportunities for members of disadvantaged groups. These articles are available for all, but I suspect that they are most useful to those of you with the least access to other sources of advising and counseling.
I don’t want to imply that my advice will always lead to good professional outcomes. Biases, luck, access to resources, and many other factors will, of course, influence your ability to navigate an academic system. I also worry that my advice could be in tension with systematic biases. If I suggest communicating directly and openly with your advisor, could that strategy be less effective for some groups of people?
My writing thus comes with caveats. First, I hope my ideas are useful, but I know they are insufficient to put all students on a level playing field. Second, I try to stick to topics where I can provide value. I am confident in my guidance on writing and presenting. I can share what I’ve observed in successful students and faculty. I can teach less effectively about diversity, equity, and inclusion, though I know that many serious challenges remain unaddressed. Third, I will trust you the reader to take what is personally valuable from this writing and to exclude irrelevant ideas. You know what your constraints are, and are capable of finding other advice, so I will try not to water down my writing with caveats you don’t need from me.
This is an ongoing experiment. I will continue releasing articles, gauging the reception, and learning. Your thoughtful feedback—-positive or negative–is always welcome.
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