We’re in a new year. 2016. As my pastor said in his January message, it is a new day, and you are blessed with grace-filled moments. In 2015 and even in parts of the very new 2016, I know that some have been flirting with self-doubt, and contemplating an affair with self-destruction. My plea to you is to stand up and hold your head high. Re-group, and don’t let any negative thoughts nor forces invade your presence. You have come this far for a purpose. Regardless of whether your path was an easy paved highway, a winding icy road, or barely a trail in the dirt, you are here, and you have a mission to accomplish.
You’re reading the news. You may be affected directly or indirectly, but social injustice surrounds us. We have work to do: Exposing injustices, using knowledge and power to right the wrongs of inequity, addressing poverty, working toward cures, providing opportunities for others, and even showing love.
I would like to encourage you to turn any doubts into action … starting NOW. Here are some things that you can do.
- Make a decision to have a successful, action-based, year, and stick to it. Some people make resolutions, some make vision boards, some journal their thoughts, and some make lists. Do what you need to do. Tell a friend, have an accountability partner, add it to your google calendar.
- If you are working on your thesis or dissertation, finish it! Join PROMISE online for the online Dissertation House in Maryland. Use us as a resource. If you are in Maryland, you have a chance to apply to participate in-person, https://promiseagep.wordpress.com/2016/01/05/winter-2016-dissertation-house/, otherwise, you can participate online: https://dissertationhouse.wordpress.com/blog-online-challenge/winter-2016-challenge/
- If you are about to enter the job market, enter it boldly! Be sure that your application is stellar. Get help if needed. If you are applying for a faculty position, consider this “Flood the Gates” post with tips for your application: https://renettatull.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/operation-flood-the-gates-for-faculty-diversity-apply-thinkbigdiversity/
- Give yourself real, measurable goals, and start with reasonable chunks, and upon completion, re-up. It may be too much to say, “I’m going to finish my dissertation in 2016,” if you haven’t finished your proposal yet. Instead, consider finishing an experiment within the next two weeks, add to your methods and results sections next month, etc.
- Develop your own board of trusted career advisors – and include people who are already in positions to which you aspire. Do NOT include peers, former roommates, family members. Your advisors need to have walked in your shoes, and can provide direction for your upcoming path. Give them permission to critique your work and your performance, and allow them to do so in love, with your best interest at heart. You need to know if your CV is wrong, or if you don’t have enough publications, or if you should use different terminology.
- Have a group of “encouragers.” You need to have a group of people who will always encourage you to move forward. Note that they should “encourage,” not coddle.
- Follow through and take advice. Sometimes people get advice, and then they don’t follow through. Don’t be overly ambitious such that you get overwhelmed, and then become paralyzed. Perhaps you can plan to meet with one or two people from whom you would like to receive advice. Plan to meet with them, follow what they say, and then report back to them for next steps.
- Update your CV. I always tell my students that there should be something new that should be added to the CV every 6 months. This practice keeps you satisfied with what you have accomplished, and aware of things that you need to do to complete your next goals.
- Give yourself the gift of developing your dream experience. This is a point that I try to instill in my students, and it may require some sweat equity. If your school doesn’t offer the kind of experience that you want to have, find a way to volunteer to gain a semblance of it. You may not have the luxury of having things fall into your lap, therefore you have to create your own opportunities – consider an internship that you can have during your vacation, or a meeting with a renowned scholar that occurs at a conference where you save and use your own personal funds to pay for the registration and travel.
- Tell people what you want. Don’t wait for mentors, advisors, or others to read your mind. They may not know that you want to be nominated for that award, or be recommended for that job. You may think that they should just “know,” and put you on the list before all others because you have worked hard. The system doesn’t always work that way. You need to let people know how they can help you, and make sure that your ask is within the realm of what they can offer.
- Write. That’s it. Make your mark. Make it count. Don’t be afraid. Just do it. Stop avoiding the journal writing process, the editorial critique, the revise and re-submit process. Make sure that you are writing well. Allow critique for spelling, grammar, organization, cohesion, and comprehension. You need to have evidence of your work that can be referenced.
- Write your CV 10 years into the future and work backwards. What do you need to do to be in your dream position? What kinds of experiences will take you there? Actualize your vision by preparing to expand your horizons, and making plans that will put you in the place to fulfill your mission.
The examples below are real, and are based on a combination of my own experiences, experiences of my students, and those of some of my personal mentors. I will not provide names, but I provide the details so that you consider them as you develop your own plan of action.
“I wanted to go to an international conference, but didn’t have the money. I spoke with a few friends in my department, and we decided that we all wanted to go to meet leaders in our field. We put our money together, found cheap flights, shared hotel rooms, and made sure that we were in time for the early-bird student registrations. This was years ago. Now we’re regulars at the top conference in our field, and we have other resources that support our participation.”
“I wanted to work with a particular professor at an ivy-league institution. I had a friend at the school, and volunteered to help with the summer program. While I was there, I made an appointment with the professor. I made a good impression and continued to have the professor’s mentorship over the years. I finished my PhD a few years ago and I continued to work with the professor during every vacation. Now we are colleagues, and I am an affiliate at the center! My ivy-league dream came true and I work with top scholars in my field.”
“My field was changing fast, and my university didn’t have the facilities that were needed to provide me with the latest training protocols. I contacted a top scholar in the field and asked if I could volunteer as his GA, and be trained on equipment. It was a 6-hour train ride each way, but I did it every week until I graduated. When I ran out of money, I asked my deans and every student support resource on campus for help. I showed them my progress, including my conference papers and presentations. They considered this good stewardship, and assisted where possible. After receiving my PhD, and doing a postdoc, I knew that I had done the right thing to set the foundation for my career. I now run my own science projects with a full team of researchers.”
“My advisor didn’t get tenure, and I felt stuck. My department worked with me to get another advisor in the department, but his expertise was in a different area and he could only advise me on methodology. I applied for all of the travel fellowships that I could find and was able to go to a conference where the author of the top papers in my field would be speaking. My family chipped in and there was even a church offering to help me to go. I sent the scholar an email in advance of the conference and asked him if I could treat him to tea after his talk. I sat in the front row of his session at the conference, talked with him afterwards, and we had tea. I discussed my appreciation for his work, talked about how he influenced my research, and explained my current hypothesis. He gave me some advice. I asked if I could stay in touch with him. He agreed and he assisted me throughout my dissertation process. I felt blessed because I had the methodological mentoring from my department, and the discipline-specific mentoring from this international leader. When I became a professor, I felt fully confident in my work because I knew that I had been in contact with one of the best minds in my area.”
Critique and Follow-through
“Each time I went to a new city, I made an appointment with a scholar in my field. I talked with her/him, and discussed my work. I took the advice and continued to grow. I continue to do that now. Now I’m a provost.”
“I am the CEO of a company and I give my mentees copies of my early CVs and early reports so that they can see that this process took time. I tell my mentees that they should always have a copy of a CV of someone who is in the position that they want. If you want to win a Nobel Prize, contact a Nobel Laureate and read her/his CV. If you want to be a C-level leader, look at paths of people in those positions. Are you doing what they did? Will you do what they do? Have you put yourself in the company of people who are in that position? Are you developing mentors along the way? We all have mentors – at every level.”
“Apply. Always apply for scholarships, funding, and awards. You’ll need to do this throughout your career, so start practicing. I will write letters of recommendation for people who take my advice. We advance together. My students who have been my mentees throughout their careers, continue to rise as I rise. As I get promotions, I can continue to support them at higher levels.”
“I’m really busy, but I want to help. I’m a university president and I have a lot of responsibility, and never-ending meetings. I always ask my mentees what they want from me. They have to be able to tell me in concise and succinct terms. When I tell them to call one of my friends, or do some preliminary research, I expect them to do it. If they don’t, it shows that they didn’t value my time.”
I hope that these tips and examples help as you plan your path for 2016. In short, be active, not passive. You have a mission, fulfill it. Don’t waste time feeling as if you don’t matter. You were born, and you are alive, therefore you matter, and you are here to make things happen. Don’t forget your spiritual side – rely on the still small voice that guides you. If the voice is negative, you’re tuned in to the wrong frequency – cut that off immediately by replacing it with positive spirit-filled messages. Use your gifts and talents wisely. Don’t squander them, don’t belittle them. Supplement where necessary, then grow and advance. There is a world out there, and you are part of it. Take your place. Wishing you a wonderful 2016 that is invigorating, prosperous, and productive!