Why Tenure isn’t Everything

Many doctoral students think that getting published in a top journal and getting tenure are the only things that matter in their career.  While I think those things are valuable achievements, I believe that this task-focused approach to doctoral education is dead wrong.  Here’s why.

1. Relationship-building is more important than you think.  Are outcome-focused type A overachievers who leave little time for “unproductive” things like spending time with other people or having fun really more likely to be successful in life?   Admittedly, the academic pursuit of tenure and endless productivity can make you feel guilty for spending time doing something unrelated to your work.  Relationships are inherently inefficient but they certainly aren’t useless, even if they don’t have an immediate outcome or “accomplish” anything.   Co-students and supervisors, other faculty members, and colleagues you meet at conferences make your career more rewarding and more fun.  They also provide you with support, constructive feedback, a sounding board for new ideas (which often sound better in your head than they do out loud), and occasionally, a shoulder to cry on.   On the flip side, you will also be able to contribute to others’ projects and provide feedback to help others.  My experience as a nurse has made it pretty obvious that relationships are one of the most valuable aspects of our lives and that we need to value them more.  Building positive relationships takes time and energy but at the end of your life, are you really going to regret the time you spent with other people?  Not likely.

2.  Burnout prevention

Sometimes we are overambitious and take on too much.  I have done this more times than I would like to admit.  During my first undergraduate degree I refused to take a student loan so I worked 10 part-time jobs while taking a full course load and having an active social life.  My schedule was crazy! After final exam period I slept for almost a week straight to recover from the burnout.  Don’t do this to yourself!  I have learned that a much more sustainable method is to limit the number of projects and commitments you take on and do them well.  If you take on too many things at once you are probably going to do a mediocre job and end up exhausted.  I also don’t advise doing things just because they look good on your CV.  If you invest your time and energy into things that help you learn and grow and that you are interested in, you are going to excel at them and have a lot more fun.  I truly believe that if you are engaged in the learning process and doing work that gets you excited the publications and tenure-track position will follow.  Enjoy the process and pace yourself – this is a marathon, not a sprint.

3.  Today is the only day.

As much as we plan and dream, the only day we ever have is this one.  Take advantage of it.  Sure, there may be times when you have to stay inside on a sunny day to meet an urgent deadline and you will spend many many many hours sitting in front of a computer screen working with data, writing, and picking at powerpoint slides.  Take breaks. Spend time outside.  Take care of yourself physically and mentally.  Most importantly, make time for the people you care about.  You really never know when your time will be up.

Tenure is a good goal for many of us and it is something that I am working towards but right now being a doctoral student is pretty darn amazing.  Every day is a learning adventure and I am building my research toolkit.  I get to work with smart people who have a lot of knowledge and ideas to share and who are passionate about nursing and health care.   I get to ask questions and think about ideas.  I am also working with the best supervisor, committee, and research team I could ask for.  Tenure will be nice but it can wait.

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