Monday, February 4, 2019

A 20 Year Plan? I Don't Have A Plan for Next Week

One of my favorite people, Sara Mitchell, was tweeting about falling short in her aspirations for 2019.

I made fun of her sending out only two papers to journals and so forth, but what got my attention was her not making progress on a twenty year plan to carry her through the rest of her career.  Which got me thinking about academics planning ahead and maybe use this as an opportunity to force me to think about my future. 

Have I ever really planned my career?  Um, no and yes.  Here are two of my "plans":
A) Publish my dissertation as a book and get some articles published so that I can get tenure.
B) Wait for sabbatical, take sabbatical, wait for sabbatical, take sabbatical, .... retire.
Plan A was what I imagined the tenure track to be, and it pretty much was even though I was in a department that valued articles far more than books.  TTU did provide some incentives/feedback/coercion along the way so that I ended up applying for more grants--that as an institution, it wanted to be ranked as a reseach institution, so that meant more grant money.  But really, my focus was at first just on getting the minimal number of pubs that would help me get tenure at TTU AND make me marketable to get out of Lubbock.  That is where the book came in.  Also, I later learned via observation of others that the best way not to get tenure is not to publish your dissertation.

Anyhow, while the first book was definitely planned, the next steps were not--spending a year in DC on the Joint Staff was something that interested me as I thought about the possibility.  I didn't plan that to be the launching point for a new job or new research agendas.  It was just something that I thought would be cool (and would allow Mrs. Spew to be closer to family for a year) and might help my career.  I had no idea what I was getting into.  Moving to Montreal?  A great opportunity but I didn't plan to move there, I just tried to get out of Lubbock.  I didn't plan to move from TTU--I just kept trying.  There was not much strategy besides publish more and keep on trying.  Which was pretty much my "plan" for moving on from McGill and Montreal.  Indeed, my application to NPSIA was mostly aimed to meet people, make an impression (a good one, I hoped), and practice the job talk.  Because of the nature of the job, I didn't think I had a shot.  And I didn't--they gave me a different job.  So, not much of a plan.

But now that I am settled, what is my plan for the rest of my career besides "wait for sabbatical, take sabbatical, etc?"  Glad you asked as it forces me to think about it.  And I have done some thinking.  Just as I don't think about a book each day as I write a piece of it, I tend to break things down.  So, there are a few key cycles that may help organize the next twenty years (I do plan to retire in about 18 years, more or less, depending on economic cycles, changing incentives, etc--to be at Carleton for about 25 years): grant cycles, Paterson Chair renewal, and book ideas. These are all related.
  • The major grant agency here is the SSHRC, and the primary grant, the Insight Grant, funds five years of research.  So, I tend to think of things in terms of five-year projects.  While it generally takes me longer than five years to publish a book, most of the research and writing does take about five years.  So, the real question is whether I have three or four book ideas lined up, and the answer is: hell no.  I tend to think only one book ahead of the current book project.  I have an idea for the next project, and a faint idea for the one after that, but as I learn stuff, my curiosity changes and my attention shifts, so I cannot be certain that these will be the projects until I start writing the next grant application.  
  • The Paterson Chair is not a lifetime thing, but renewable every five years.  I like the money and title and all that comes with the chair, so I will keep aiming to produce enough to be renewed.  Which means trying to produce enough articles and grants over each five year period to be worthy of renewal.  The overlap in this cycle and the SSHRC cycle is not perfect, but they are in enough harmony that they will not crash into each other.  
  • There is another grant cycle that may or may not matter--if the CDSN is funded this spring, that will mean seven years of administering the grant and heaps of work focused on Canadian defence and security (it would also pretty much ensure the next Paterson Chair renewal)--that might shift my next book project's topic as I get exposed to all kinds of questions and research agendas.  It would almost certainly lead to more edited volumes and special issues.  Oh, and getting it would probably defer for a few years a significant increase in department service (directing a graduate program or the entire school would probably have to wait).
  • Then there is that sabbatical cycle, which is a real thing.  My real plan there is for the next one (in about five years) to be a teaching one--where I go someplace, teach and use that as a base to travel to explore an interesting part of the globe.  But that may change, depending on whether my next project requires me to use that year in a different way.  The key is this: I have probably two sabbaticals left in my career.  Unless I stick around past age 70 to get one more sabbatical.  These are great opportunities so I will have to figure out how to maximize them.
I guess the keys to my "plans" is that I can't commit to any long term research agenda since I am open to the vagaries of my curiosity, that my outlook is critically shaped by a lack of desire to move (very different from my career prior to Carleton), and my career thus far has bumped around in ways that I never intended but worked out very well (with some stress along the way).  So, no, Sara, I don't really have a twenty year plan, but I do have a series of five year plans that are subject to revision.  The big question really is: three five-year plans or four?

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