Early career advice corner

Teaching, research and service: achieving balance as an early career academic.

By Sarah Manchak, PhD, and Jon Mandracchia, PhD

In this column, we offer guidance for prioritizing your academic responsibilities. Although both of us continue to navigate through the challenges of balancing the many responsibilities of our own positions, we have gleaned some insight in our early careers that we think may be helpful for others.

Although some expectations are communicated to you upon hire, knowing where to focus your efforts day-to-day as a new academic can be somewhat of a guessing game. Generally, you will be evaluated by your performance in three key areas: teaching, research, and service. The emphasis on one over the others will vary depending on your institution (e.g., teaching vs. research-focused) and your particular program (e.g., clinical, counseling, forensic, criminal justice). Any one of these domains can start to slip if you are not careful, and deficits in one or more domains can mean the difference between receiving tenure or not.

Teaching. No matter what school or program you are in, teaching is an important part of your job. You can be an effective teacher, however, without spending all your work week preparing lectures and other course activities. When you first start as an assistant professor, you will find that new course preparations can take an inordinate amount of time. That’s generally okay… but only for the first year or two. After that, you should be preparing few, if any, new courses (if you are, you may wish to have a discussion with your department head). To keep lecture prep time to a minimum, try to get syllabi and slides from other professors who have previously taught the course; don’t reinvent the wheel if you don’t have to! Also limit the time you spend grading exams, papers, and other course assignments by not assigning work that will require hours of your time to grade.

Research. Although some schools provide their professors with a required minimum number of publications per year, others do not. To gauge what may be expected of you in your own department, it can be helpful to look at the publication activity of your colleagues, usually found on their CV’s. If you do have a research requirement, you should write as if your job depends on it — because in many cases, it does! In general, you should strive to write every day, even if you only have a few minutes here and there. It may be helpful to keep a timeline with clear deadlines to keep yourself on track. Forming a peer writing group can also be an effective strategy for improving your writing and adhering to deadlines.

Service. As new faculty, we want to be team players — to do our part, to share our fresh ideas and insights. As a result, it is very easy to get sucked into many additional responsibilities. You should be cognizant about being a good departmental citizen, but you also need to keep your service in check. As a good rule of thumb, limit yourself to 3-4 hours per week spent on service. This includes university and departmental service, such as dissertation and search committees, as well as service to the profession including professional committees and manuscript reviews. Remember that it is acceptable to say “no” on occasion!

Although our experience may differ from your own, we hope that this advice provides a good starting point for how to prioritize your many new responsibilities as an academic. We owe much of this insight to our colleagues and mentors who have been kind enough to provide candid guidance to us along the way. As you seek to navigate the expectations and culture in your own department, we encourage you to also seek out the advice of your colleagues who have been through the tenure process. They likely have a wealth of information to share.