As you move from early career into mid-career, you’ll become involved in different aspects of academic life. These can be both rewarding and challenging. This article helps you to think through ways of contributing to the development of your department at the same time as enhancing your own career.
Although academic staff have a great deal of autonomy, they must also be aware that they are part of a team of people. By thinking of ways to improve the standing of the group, you can develop your own individual career. Some scholars deliberately avoid this, preferring instead to separate themselves and not contribute to team activities. But you then cut yourself off from promotional opportunities, and in extreme cases, you alienate your colleagues.
Position of your department
This is an opportunity for you to learn about the wider institution within which you work. One way of enhancing your department’s standing is to think of ways that it can tap in to institutional initiatives. A good way of beginning to explore these themes is to make contacts outside your own department. Experienced colleagues from within the same faculty or school will give you a perspective on institutional demands and how they affect other departments. It is also useful to prevent repetition of work by finding out what other departments are doing and learning from their experience.
Responding to internal concerns versus creating your own agenda
At departmental management level a balance always has to be created between responding to demands from the Dean, Pro-Vice Chancellors or Vice-Chancellor and making your own agenda for change. Becoming too passive and reactive can leave your department in a vulnerable position where it is only able to ‘fire fight’ and respond to instructions coming in. It has little say in its own destiny. Of course an awareness of important issues in your own institution is vital, but you also should consider how to steer your department in ways that will benefit your staff and student group.
How to develop a departmental strategy
Often staff are so busy that they spend much of their time responding to day to day teaching matters. However, it is vital to take the opportunity to undertake ‘blue skies thinking’ - airing their ideas for future development in the medium and long term and beginning to work out the means for achieving them. Priorities will be slightly different within each department but here are some areas that you might like to think about:
Student numbers: do you want to increase or decrease? Change the cohort? (i.e. have a higher or lower entrance qualification)
New staff: which areas would you like to hire in?
Development of research centres/clusters. Related to the above, are there areas of strength in the department that could be further enhanced with new staff, researchers or postgraduates?
New programmes: would a new degree programme enhance your department’s offering? If so, you would need to undertake market research to prove its viability and ‘sell’ the idea to colleagues.
Of course, it is also important to respond to key issues in academic life that are driven from outside your own institution. In the UK some of these issues are: impact of research, open access research publication, internationalisation (of the student body and the university’s reputation) and student numbers in light of new government policy on the removal of recruitment caps.