Over the last week I had the pleasure of receiving some sage career advice from Gary Burge. Now I don't know Gary Burge (though I hope to meet him some day), but his advice comes to academics through his recent book Mapping Your Academic Career: Charting the Course of a Professor's Life.
While I have been teaching for a number of years at the seminary level already, my move to academia has been felt much more with my recent move to Professor of New Testament at Acadia Divinity College. People remind me often that I have big shoes to fill in the wake of Dr. Craig Evans, something I very much understand. Yet at the same time, Craig and I are different people, with different interests, and different strengths. What Burge's book also reminded me is that we are at different stages of our careers as well, and I can't expect to measure myself against someone who has mastered his craft, while I am still in the process.
Burge walks his readers through what he calls the "three cohorts:"
- Cohort 1, age range approx. 28-38. Driving Question – "Will I find security?"
- Cohort 2, age range approx. 39-55. Driving Question – "Will I find success?"
- Cohort 3, age range approx. 50-70. Driving Question – "Will I find significance?"
For each chapter devoted to the cohorts, Burge discusses the potential pitfalls, the areas where academics ought to spend their time, fears, and of course revolves his discussion around what he considers to be the driving question during that time.
This book is sage advice from someone who is now in cohort 3. I appreciated hearing from someone in my specific area, and who happens to be an NT scholar I greatly admire. While reading, particularly the cohort 1 chapter, there were several times where I laughed out loud. Several times he put into words exactly what I was feeling – and more than anything it was nice to know that I wasn't the only one. While reading the other cohorts, it also helped me to understand other colleagues and scholars who I know, and prepared me to think more clearly about what my future may look like. It also reminded me that, while I may sometimes unfairly measure myself to senior colleagues in terms of something like publication, they may do the exact same thing back towards younger academics, but this time comparing things like technological savvy, rapport with young students, and stamina. At every stage of our careers, we are working through our own anxiety and (often self-imposed) pressure.
Whether you are new to the academic scene or have been teaching for 20 years, Burge's book will be a delightful read with gems of wisdom on every page.
And if anyone reading this knows Gary Burge, please tell him I said thank you!