This success story will assist you in your decision-making to get the help you need if you’re facing great deal of pressure as an early-career academic.
Addressing Early-Career Academic Career Pressure
We know academic careers are tough. The systems and institutional cultures are not always perfect. Sometimes they can even be toxic. Changes in what’s expected to secure tenure or find permanency, along with the need to be validated through research grant success mean that many early-career researchers are under a great deal of stress to find a stable footing early on in their careers.
Inspiring early career academic example
Meet Laura, an early-career academic on a track to tenure, a researcher, a mother, and an Italian currently working in the Netherlands. She writes about it in this essay for Science magazine.
Laura struggled with having a great deal to juggle on her plate and feeling overwhelmed by it. Who wouldn’t! Many academics feel the same way but are too scared to say so. They simply work harder, often pushing beyond healthy limits in the hope they will eventually find that stable footing. But, turning this corner towards greater safety can prove elusive. Meanwhile stress and pressure mount especially from the pain of frequent rejections, feeling isolated and needing to prove oneself over and over, constant sense that there is never enough time and everything takes longer than anticipated.
Typical juggling act of an early career researcher
A typical early-career academic juggles multiple hats and a large set of responsibilities, including:
- often heavy teaching loads or being given a course they’re not an expert in,
- student supervision demands,
- countless administrative tasks,
- departmental service duties,
- need to write papers and secure funding,
- time to do cutting-edge research or scholarly work,
- time spent building relationships and collaborations,
- time reading and reviewing papers and grants,
- conferences and editorial tasks,
- countless e-mails.
“I wanted —and thought I needed— to be perpetually available to answer emails, which kept me attached to my inbox as though my life depended on it. I also felt I needed to say yes to every request that came my way, and soon found myself not having time for the work I really needed to do.”Laura Rossi, science.org
But that’s not all. There’s also life, family, personal health, and lots of questions. Faced with all this, without sufficient organization, clarity, and effective work habits, academic work can quickly get out of control. Many early career researchers feel completely overwhelmed and find themselves in constant survival mode i.e., chronic stress.
A system and tool that can restore order, balance and calm
At Make Time Count we believe there is another way. We want science and career success on healthy terms. One that is kind to parents or carers, and minority groups. We also believe that one can take a different approach that creates less stress and good quality sleep.
Of course, each person has to find their own path to success. That said, when we’re overwhelmed or stressed, finding solutions, let alone trying them often results in indecision. This is where Grid can help. Grid works at many levels from macro picture building and goal setting, to supporting small actions that move one step closer to results. We invite you to explore this article to find out more.
Below are a few ideas that we recommend if you want to improve your situation. See what you think, how they make you feel, and choose the one that feels right to you.
1. Find your personal productivity balance with a Do-It-Yourself approach
Find a way of being an academic or researcher so that it still allows you to cultivate a healthy balance between your work and life. You can do this in many ways, including having good work-life boundaries, work habits, etc.
If you’re struggling, we recommend getting familiar with our Grid method by reading through our rich and free Grid resource section, exploring the Get Productive Grid book, and experimenting with our Grid templates or structuring your agenda across the week using this no-frills 25-week Gridding Block.
This is how Laura has taken the Grid method and made it her own, helping her tackle parenting, professional work and an academic career:
2. Be supported in implementing a mini overhaul with our Grid Introduction Training Course
If you’re easily distracted or prefer a more systematic approach then our Grid introduction course is for you! The course will hold your hand and assist you in applying the Grid approach to creating a vision for your life, setting goals, converting ideas into results and so much more. It follows a personal development structure, giving you key Gridding exercises, goal-setting advice, and introductory videos from the Grid creator herself, along with the opportunity to ask questions and join a live Grid clinic.
I would highly recommend this course as The Grid is the only organisational method I have found so far that helps me pay attention to all facets of my life without burning myself out… Every since starting the course and implementing The Grid, however, I have been able to complete my work and my studies while also making sure that I look after my skin, my belly and my mind. Not only that, but I have started to actually enjoy my days while getting things done instead of getting paralysed and overwhelmed by the number of projects I’m involved in, which has then resulted in the work getting done earlier, giving me an opportunity to spend quality time with my partner, cat and friends. I am so grateful for this method and can’t wait to see all that I achieve by sticking to it!Marianella Lopez
3. Join a drop in Grid clinic surgery
Maybe you read the blogs, the Get Productive Grid book, had a go, and you’re wondering, “Am I doing it right?” or “What else can I discover with this approach?” Our 90min Grid Clinics ensure that you’re never left unsupported unless you want to be. We host this small-group tutorial on a regular basis to ensure you have all you need to succeed. Check out our events page for upcoming dates and book your seat today.
4. Get a Grid Coach
Working with her makes me feel … capable and strong.
Laura Rossi, Assistant Professor, Delft University of TechnologyScience Magazine, Working Life, 23 Sep. 2021
Laura had tried other personal development methods before, yet none fit her needs as well as a truly personal solution. This is where 1:1 coaching can help! Here are Dr. Magdalena Bak-Maier’s top tips for finding and choosing a coach for you:
- Do you believe this person will understand you and where you’re coming from?
- Are they experienced in working with people in your specific circumstances? Have you got some proof of this, for example a personal recommendation from a colleague or a proven track record of activity? Be aware of flashy websites and testimonials that you can’t trace back to a real person.
- Does their philosophy of work and methods match what you need? You may need to speak with them to find out.
5. Invite a Grid workshop into your department or institution
We have delivered many workshops on healthy productivity and wellbeing for researchers across the UK, EU and the USA. Inquire with us about a similar event for your department or faculty.
Three other ideas to help you find support
- Find a mentor. We all support and mentors – people who are good at something and willing to share their expertise and know-how are priceless in academia. Part of the challenge however lies in finding someone good at the job. Look out for people who are excellent in something. Mentors share what they know. Ensure they are people who can give you advice that still works. Science culture has changed a lot. If they are significantly older, look for the wisdom they can offer in specific arenas where their experience has validity. A good mentor will always be a worthwhile sounding board. Look out for people who are at the top of their game and who willingly champion others. Effective leaders pull other people up behind them. This is especially true when it comes to women leaders and minority groups. If you find someone like this, ask them to mentor you.
- Form a peer-support circle. Instead of keeping isolated, reach out to colleagues who are at a similar career stage as you and invite them into a regular series of meetings where you can share your stories, get advice and take soundings. We have instigated such local support groups after some of our academic leadership development programmes and they are an excellent means of developing and sustaining relationships that often form lasting friendships.
- Explore personal development and effectiveness courses your institutions may have on offer. Don’t be afraid to take time out to learn something new when it comes to areas such as communication, influencing, project planning etc. Apart from technical skills, most effective work is powered by soft skills sets you can’t learn doing research or at least not right way. These short courses and workshops will give you important additional skills that will allow your technical mastery to shine brighter.
There is always something we can do to improve our circumstances. If you’re reading this now, we challenge you to take one action as a result of what you’ve just read. Let’s make things better and avoid the costs of doing little or nothing.
The Cost of Not Supporting Early Career Researchers
Leaving early career researchers unsupported at critical career stages presents serious risks to the individual, their institutions, and their discipline. Below are a few examples drawn from our consultancy and 1:1 coaching work when it comes to some of these costs:
- Individual suffering and distress that takes a toll of this person’s life outside academia, namely their family.
- Disengagement, cynicism and burnout culture that majors on competition, judgement and fear.
- Poor teaching and student supervision.
- No time to think creatively and cycles of reactive behaviours that keep everyone performing below their true potential.
- Staff attrition as people leave science for the wrong reasons.
- An unfavorable reputation that hamper healthy diversity.
- Poor productivity and an endless stress-cycle.
- Interpersonal conflict from everyone always feeling on edge from too much stress.
- Shame culture where people isolate from fear of being found not good enough.
- A culture of apaprent winners and losers that hinders healthy flourishing.
The good news is that with a little bit of support, all this can be avoided for academics, researchers, and students.
If you are unsure regarding your best course of action, get in touch with us!