I had just turned 19 and had never thought of myself as wise. As other students shared the same concern, I realized I was not alone. Dr. Planer assured us that we all had wisdom and knowledge to share. To this day, I look back on this lesson and remind myself that my experiences are valuable. To celebrate 4 years since the original draft of my own lessons to live by, I decided to create a list of lessons specifically for academics.
A Young Academic’s Top 5 Rules to Live By:
- Embrace failure. This has, oddly enough, become pretty common advice. When I was a kid, I was never really told that failure was okay. Now, I have reframed failure as a window of opportunity that opens when a door is slammed in your face. From my experience, this rule of embracing failure is incredibly important. My plans have fallen apart so many times throughout my studies. However, as I worked to piece them back together, I’ve learned important things about myself and discovered new research interests and career opportunities.
- Establish work-life balance. During my first two years of undergrad, I worked and studied nearly all hours of the day and night, rarely making time for my family and friends. I fell into the trap of “romanticizing the exhausted college student.” After those first two years, I realized how important it is to establish a balance between the work I care so much about and my personal life. We are people first, academics second. Make time for the people and activities that matter to you outside of your academic life.
- Appreciate your peers and mentors. Nobody enters academia as a superstar. We are all a result of the hard work, dedication, and mentorship of those we encounter during our academic journey. This is not to say that we are not capable, intelligent individuals. I simply mean that we should appreciate our peers and mentors, because they help make our ventures and successes possible. This should not be taken lightly.
- Be trustworthy. A common theme I have encountered in all of the academic settings I have been in is the importance of trust. We rely a great deal on being able to trust those we work with. In fact, most labs operate as teams, where trust is a crucial component. Be a trustworthy teammate!
- Be unrealistic. This is my favorite lesson of all. My undergraduate advisor, Dr. David Johnson, taught me this. Throughout my entire undergraduate experience, he never encouraged me to set realistic expectations. Rather, he encouraged me to apply for long-shot grants, conferences, lab gigs, etc. He helped me realize that I don’t have to choose educational or career paths that are safe or expected. This rule continues to bring amazing experiences into my life and I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.
I plan on adding to this list throughout my lifetime as an academic, and I highly encourage others to create their own lists. Looking back on the original list I made four years ago was a great way to reflect on my experiences and note areas of personal growth. As a burgeoning academic, I think this is a particularly great exercise. It’s a great way to remember why you chose the path you did and what you’ve learned along the way. Thanks, Dr. Planer, for introducing me to this great practice!