Academic Mission Statementing

I am both repelled and intrigued by Jessica Quillin’s Insider Higher Ed article on writing a career “one-pager.” Repelled because the piece reeks of the business jargon, public relations image manipulation, and pseudo-corporate opportunism that I escaped from, wish never to return to, and believe is sucking humanity’s last juices of creativity and authenticity.  Intrigued because I would very much like a job, please, and this sort of thing might help.  I may not write a one-pager or “career map” (you just heard the sound of my stomach turning), but I did recently compose a “professional mission statement” like some of those MBAs do in their first year of baby-grad school.  The rough draft goes something like this:

I will write meaningful and interesting history about places, people, and events that are important to me and my community, and I will teach other people to do the same.

Ain’t that nice?  But also vague.  So I’ve also written some definitions and clarifications:

“meaningful”= enlightening, in the sense of learning lessons from the past and being liberated by the past–by the knowledge that things can and do change, and that people help make that change.
“interesting” = engaging, fun to read, page-turner, surprising, provocative, stimulating, poignant
“community” = the people I care about, the place where I live, the wider world that I consider myself to be a part of and which affects me

That’s a bit better.  And despite the weekend-corporate-retreat feel of the entire exercise, I think there’s something useful in this.  Namely, that this mission-statement-thingy should act as something of a filter for my actions: if what I’m about to do won’t help me reach that goal, maybe I shouldn’t be doing it.  I’m looking at you, season three of the X-Files; you may be totally awesome in every imaginable way, but perhaps watching three episodes in a row the night before a journal article is due is a Bad Idea.

Now, it’s time to attend to some Action Items to realize the potentialities of my mission statement.

3 thoughts on “Academic Mission Statementing

  1. I’m very glad to learn your opinion on my piece. I figured that it might be a useful exercise for some people, realizing, of course, that no career advice is universal. I have applied for–and been rejected from–hundreds of jobs in the past 5 years since finishing my doctorate, mostly in academics. I have found it a constant battle to keep myself motivated, particularly when I felt trapped by my job, my job search, or both. So, these types of career strategies, however silly or pedantic they may seem (I am myself a skeptic of this type of advice), can occasionally prove useful.

    • Jessica,
      Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate the work you’ve done at IHE–getting academics to think seriously about how they are approaching their careers. Any frustration that came out in the piece is not directed at you, but at the university admins that are modeling higher ed after corporate profit-grubbers (see University of California). Your advice is spot-on for the situation at hand. So: thanks. (also implied here is an apology for perhaps nastier-than-necessary language at the top of my piece…)

  2. Pingback: Time Out « The Academy's Bench Warmer

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