Career perspectives in a pandemic…

A tweet came by today, and it made me think… Because the Twitter plugin on WordPress keeps failing on me, I’ll paraphrase here. The tweet suggested that the pandemic (hereafter: fucking pandemic) hits academics hard, and that productivity has severely decreased since fucking pandemic times. The tweet was also asking how to maintain a competitive profile, when productivity is experiencing a dip. The fucking pandemic impacts are heaviest among women, young parents, and people of color, as the article in the original tweet states. This fucking pandemic sucks big time. And to be honest, there is no end in sight. No matter how hard universities or even some governments pretend otherwise.

Being a young parent of two kids (2.5 yr and 4 mo), less than two years after finishing my PhD, I can only agree. This fucking pandemic hit me hard. I don’t even know how my wife and I got through it all and somehow both had some great career successes. We have survived all the previous lockdowns with a single child without day care by alternating our work hours, but it was tough. This alternating schedule enabled us to somehow do the bare necessities, while at least being available for our son. However, since the last lockdown a second baby joined the club. I’m not even sure now that I can handle the bare necessities, and there’s no lockdown yet. This fucking pandemic is really killing me.

And yet, time doesn’t stand still… I have some time left on my contract, but needless to say, it also makes sense to think about the future. And so I was thinking about what it is that I do to remain attractive on the ‘career market’, because, to be honest, working more hours is simply not an option, and to be fair, I think it shouldn’t be a desire either. Enough is enough.

So what should we do to be seen? I’m not sure, but my gut feeling tells me to spend my working hours being helpful and grateful.

I spend the majority of my hours helping others. This is either through supervision, teaching, providing feedback, and academic services. I was a bit worried about not spending enough time on my own research line at first, but my attitude has changed a bit. I can work on my own stuff whenever I want, but I don’t know, I think that investing time in helping other people is a worthy investment that will pay for itself in the longer term. Helpful people stand out in the crowd…

The second, gratitude, may sound a bit silly. Sure, you should be grateful. But are you? Are you also expressing this to the people you work with? Whenever you work with a team, there’s so many things large and small that you do for each other, and I think it’s important to realize this, and appreciate it. I try to make a habit out of it. This is not about yelling thanks at everyone all the time (although that’s certainly better than no thank you, ever), but it’s about spending time recognizing what people do, for you, for each other, or for keeping the system afloat. Germany is the country of the most insincere tokens of gratitude. You’ll often get a thank you, but usually what you have done really goes unseen, and it therefore feels underappreciated. Within my team, I try to see and point out important efforts with gratitude. I think it’s nicer to work with someone that sees these things and is grateful for them. Help is not a given. Don’t take it for granted.

If you’re helpful, and grateful, you will be seen. I think you’ll surround yourself with the right people. The right people will get you through this fucking pandemic, and improve the conditions for a flourishing career – of that I’m sure.

Published by Robin Heinen

Father of two | Husband | Entomologist and Ecologist | Postdoctoral Researcher @ TUM | Traveler | Coffee Addict

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