International Journal of Instructional Cases (IJIC)


Blog: Dancing to the Rhythm of Academia

Gina Vega, Ph.D
Editor-in-Chief, IJIC

In 1996, I relocated from New York to Massachusetts for my first tenure track position at a small Catholic college. I had taught previously as an adjunct at several institutions — a large Catholic university, a large private university, a small private college, a military outreach university, and a large Canadian university. All these had left me woefully unprepared for the job I accepted.

In the same year, Peter J. Frost and M. Susan Taylor published ….”Rhythms of Academic Life: Personal Accounts of Careers in Academia.” This book was part of the Foundations for Organizational Science series from Sage, and it served as a faculty development handbook for those many new faculty, like me, who were just plain confused about how to build their careers and what to expect along the way. I read this book like a Bible and depended on it for the mentoring that was missing in my first job. I learned how to hit the ground running, how to count on my ability to work harder than I had to, to write and write and write, to never file away a manuscript without revising it again and sending it out to another journal. I learned how to persist, how to seek out advice from those more experienced than I, how to read critiques of my own work without weeping from frustration. I learned how not to denigrate my life experience outside of academia, but to integrate it into my new professional life.

I had had considerable work experience before I decided to pursue my doctorate and had already learned that I was (and continue to be) unsuccessful at jumping through hoops, academic political or social. My last job before I left work to study was as the administrative director of a mental health clinic in Manhattan. That position was a graduate education on its own. I learned about facilities management, publishing books and catalogs, running training programs, scheduling patients, billing insurance companies and government insurance agencies, sales management, shipping, hiring and firing, and handling difficult people. Actually, that last category, difficult people, appears in every walk of life and every job. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of folks in academia who fit this category.

It turns out that the education you get in the school of hard knocks is at least as valuable as the education you get at university, although it does not provide you with a credential to share your learning with others. What it does provide you with, however, is a rich source of experiences and stories from which to glean material for case writing. I strongly believe that had I not enjoyed a whole series of jobs in various industries prior to obtaining my PhD, I would not have been able to build my career in the way I have.

I have stories from jobs as a sales manager, a job placement counselor, a marketing coordinator, the founder and director of a non-profit within a university setting, and others. I have stories from family members, community organizations, my religious institution, my knitting group. I see stories everywhere. I learn from those stories, and I use those stories in developing teaching cases for other learners. I used those stories for two decades in the undergraduate classroom, and I used those stories as the foundation for the most satisfying part of my academic career – that of author and journal editor.

All the life experience and the academic experience we have is combined in the role of journal editor, and the reach of the editor is substantial. We do our best to clarify reviewer commentary for authors and help the authors attain publication, the coin of our academic realm. I have been fortunate to have had excellent mentors after that first difficult teaching experience, and I learned from them how to mentor others. The pleasure a journal editor gets from seeing published the efforts of a hard working author is difficult to describe. Yes, it is a bit paternalistic (or, in my case, maternalistic). Yes, it is satisfaction at a job well done and well managed. Yes, it is relief at completing one more complex task. It is all that and it is a feeling of partnership with reviewers and authors that will result in students somewhere finding the application of theory to practice just a little clearer.

Frost and Taylor remind us to stay in balance, manage what we can manage and not to worry about the rest, and allow ourselves the latitude to develop in unanticipated directions. I echo their philosophy and encourage you all to learn from the challenging experiences we have shared in 2021, write about them, and dance with me to that academic rhythm.

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