5 Mistakes Most Academics Make to End Their Career

All politics is local, even in education. I know a lot of people in academia who were told to put their head down and work hard, and that they’d succeed — plenty of our education system rewards that — but advancing your career often requires a more heads-up approach.

I’ve worked with a lot of university professionals, from teachers and deans to IT departments and the maintenance folks, to see that not lifting up your head and looking around can sink your career, no matter how promising.

I’ve put together five of the top lessons that I hope you’ll take to heart so you can make the most out of your future.

Forgetting to Apply Diplomacy in All Things

A good diplomat is friendly but never forward — they know where the line is and don’t step over it. Every employee in the university setting needs to know where the lines are, but this is especially important for educators.

Crossing the line from friendly to a friend raises significant risks for your career and the financial security of your university. Focus on gaining respect from students, not making them like you. Crossing boundaries is a good way to get removed from your position immediately. Even tenured professors can be dismissed for policy violations, and one of the most common is sexual harassment.

Failing to Diversify Your Skills

I’m not telling you to go out and learn coding to become the IT team. Skills diversity doesn’t have to be wide, but it is important for two big reasons. The first is that it shows a willingness to adapt to new technology or teaching techniques. That way you’re never a burden when the university system wants to update or innovate. It’ll also give you some leeway when you ask for proven tools like glass writing boards.

The second area of benefit is that learning keeps your mind sharp and helps you prepare for changes. We’ve seen some program areas close, which forces teachers to new universities that have new requirements. Continual learning not only helps you teach better, but it also prepares you for the uncertainty that can occur in any career.

Ignoring Networking

Networking can be dull, especially when it is outside of your field or department. Having a quick chat with university management or other department heads might be boring to you, or you could be a bit of an introvert.

We understand, but we also know that working with others outside of your circle improves your chances for promotion and maintaining career growth. It’s also a smart way to make friends throughout the university community, which helps your tenure track.

The more time you put into building a social network, the greater the likelihood of success in your overall career.

Not Showing Your Work

Everything you do has a process and a path, which can make it easy to get to your end results. However, the journey is important for anyone and everyone in academia. When it comes to writing a paper or preparing a presentation, you likely reached out to well-known resources and members in your community. When you work with students, you likely used a process to evaluate them and make suggestions.

Put this information down in writing and create a paper trail. Not only will it protect you against any accusations of impropriety or inappropriate actions, but it also allows others to review your decision and makes it easy for you to justify those decisions.

You would ask the same of a student who is making a presentation at the board or turning in a paper. So, show your work and keep how you operate out in the open.

Avoiding Taking Responsibility for Yourself and Your Students

Student complaints almost always lead to evidence of something, even if it’s not what they’re complaining about. One thing that can significantly harm your academic career is consistent complaints from students and workers.

While students often complain that their teachers “just don’t like me,” repeat complaints of this nature often signify an educator who is not setting clear instructions. Don’t just tell your students to “work harder” to get better grades, or you risk creating an adversarial environment that university leadership may not with to promote.

On the other hand, if you work hard to help your students understand your expectations and clearly show how they can improve or get the most from your instruction —following the “show your work” steps above — you’re well positioned to succeed and avoid career-ending issues.

I hope you’ve found this little reminder helpful for your career in academia, and I wish you the best of luck during your next class, test, lecture, book, and much more!