Another year, another theme

For a few years now, rather than making new year's resolutions, I've been doing new year's themes. I've found it more rewarding to go with the theme idea, which is more like a principle for living one's life and guiding one's actions overall, rather than choosing specific behaviors on which to focus.

So, it's time to assess last year's theme and pick a new theme for 2009.

The theme for 2008 was FEARLESS:

When I look back on what really disappointed me about 2007, the thing that jumps out at me is that I often stand in my own way. .... In light of this introspection, the theme really named itself for the year. .... I am going to go right up against my worst fears this year. Stare them down, laugh in their faces. Basically, I'm not going to be afraid to fail and, more importantly, not be afraid to try in the first place. In fact, if my first thought about something is "I can't do this", well then, there's my answer: I'm going to do it.

I'm giving myself a B- for last year's theme. I did some fearless things. I sent out an article before its time, and was pleasantly surprised at the response. I hired some unproven undergrads to work with me last summer, and sure, they screwed a few things up, but they also did some really solid work AND came up with some key results that provided the key insight to get us unstuck from a research problem I had all but abandoned. I spoke out in department meetings when normally I would have kept quiet (hey, you try keeping quiet when the topic is retention and recruitment), and even asked some pointed questions of my colleagues that I might have been tempted to suppress in the past. Teaching-wise, I took some risks and tried some new things; some worked well, others not so much. And hey, I joined ScienceBlogs! So, overall a solid effort. But I still allowed fear of tenure to color my approach to teaching and to make my life miserable in general. I was not as effective of a mentor as I could have and should have been---I was not as proactive as I would have liked, making excuses like "I don't have time" and "I need to work on getting tenure".

When thinking of what this year's theme should be, I kept returning to my overall dissatisfaction with the tenure waiting game. I feel like lately my whole life is structured around getting tenure. I obsess about every single professional decision that I make, and view it solely through the "getting tenure" lens. Should I work on Project X or Project Y? Should I publish in Journal A or Journal B? This is most true when it comes to my teaching: I feel like I sometimes suppress what I *really* want to do in the classroom so that I can fit the mold of what the rest of my colleagues do, be more like them, and get better teaching evals as a result.

Rather than moving me closer to tenure, all of this obsessing and conforming to some shifting ideal is just making me miserable and unhappy. I feel like I am denying who I am in order to achieve tenure. And, as my friends' tenure cases show, sometimes even if you do all of the "right" things, in the end this guarantees absolutely nothing.

I don't think I want tenure if it means that I have to pretend that I'm someone else to get it. But I've been pretending for so long that I'm starting to forget just who I am, what I love, and what got me here in the first place!

So my theme for 2009 is DEFINING. This year, I resolve to define myself. What kind of scholar do *I* want to be? What impact do *I* want my work to have, and what structure would I like this work to take? What research problems interest *me*? How do *I* want my values to be reflected in the way I teach and mentor? What, and how, do *I* want to contribute to my institution?

Basically, I want to take the time to reflect on what I want my career trajectory to look like for the next 1, 2, 5, 10 years, *independent of the tenure decision*. Because frankly I'm sick of waiting to live my scholarly life until I get tenure. Life doesn't start or stop with tenure, so I should stop living as if it does.

Happy new year to all of you, and before you get down to some serious work, please go and read this month's Scientiae, hosted by Acmegirl. Some great and thoughtful reading to start your new year off right.

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Wow, that is a really good idea! If I had to pick a theme for this year, I'd probably go for 'Dedication'. This year for me would be able really working hard (heh), properly putting myself into my work, rather than just picking at it from time to time. Also keeping to other resolutions, like the No Takeaways rule, with slightly more dedication than I managed last time.

Good luck with Defining! It sounds like I good one, although probably I'm a bit too early in my scientific life to be thinking too much about that.

I really like your theme! I think I'm going to choose a theme for my year, as well. I don't know what it will be, yet, but I like the theme idea better than a resolution, since the resolution you make on New Year's Day only reflects where you were on that day. You can reinterpret the theme in many ways throughout the year.

Also, I'm glad you enjoyed the carnival. Thanks for the link!

Good theme!

My theme is "Progress not Perfection"

But defining where exactly I want to make progress is also really important. Thanks for stimulating my thinking on this one.

wow, what a great post jane! you are so right about it all too. i'm still in grad school, but i had mentor once tell me that if you have to do all sorts of things you don't want to in order to get tenure, then maybe you don't want tenure and it's the wrong job for you. the only way to know is to do the things you want to do, and if you get tenure then woohoo! if not, then time to find something that rewards who you are. i plan to (try) to remember that if i ever get an academic job.

good luck and have a great 2009!

I like the theme idea, I've never been a fan of specific detailed resolutions which seem to recur year after year for some people. I have a friend who has been using themes for a few years now. She's previously had themes of "learning to say no to people and meaning it" and "being more assertive" and I think this year she has opted for "doing things instead of just talking about them".

I submitted my PhD early last year, so my theme for last year was to get on with life after thesis and also get back some life outside thesis (improve social life, relationship with partner, get fit again, eat better...). I think I mostly succeeded. So this year, having obtained an job of an uncertain duration and having several unfinished manuscripts peering over my shoulder, my theme is to get back to the science, tidy the loose ends and work out what sort of career I want to have. I don't yet have a snappy title for my theme, perhaps Get On With It would be a start...

AJ, that's an awesome theme---get on with it! I love it!