On being an early career academic & playing the Higher Ed game

I read an interesting article (The game of higher education – what’s the best way to play it?) which compares Higher Education to a game: “you struggle with the feeling that the higher education system is a game, the rules of which are difficult to navigate and set by others?” It made me think of the NAPP (New Academic Practitoners) programme I’m doing at UCT with fellow early career academics. Many of us agreed that the induction provided by the university through HR is not enough and that NAPP is essential. During the programme we had a discussion around what we expected when starting our new roles but didn’t get and for many, including myself, mentoring came up. On the one hand, we are thrown into the deep end and expected to swim (without having had training on things like convening courses, developing course outlines, etc) but on the other hand, one is being trusted with new responsibilities which can be scary and exciting.

So, what does self-leadership mean for academics? We have conceptualised it in two ways. First, self-leadership means a proactive approach to getting the most out of ourselves and those with whom we interact. Note that the responsibility is on us to take the initiative and not be purely selfish in our intent. Second, self-leadership entails an outward-looking mindset – being conscious and careful in sharing our ideas and opening up our networks. (Joy & Saunders, 2014)

Images source: http://blog.thefoundationstone.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/31dec09-looking_forward.jpg
Images source: http://blog.thefoundationstone.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/31dec09-looking_forward.jpg

Self-leadership in the way they are using it is not anti-social nor individualist. I have been proactive in seeking out people who can assist me with particular things. Interestingly, I think the people I have sought out as mentors have learnt things from me in the process. Knowledge collaboration is always at work in these interactions. One is not necessarily seeking a power relationship (authority implied by ‘mentor’) but a form of collaboration and information exchange that results in instances of informal professional development. Sometimes these become more formalised over time, such as when you meet to discuss a shared interest and later co-author an article on this topic. Whether it’s getting someone to show you the ropes or share insights on climbing the ladder it is never these things alone. There is always more to it. Acknowledging this dynamic is forward looking.

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