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Blog 2: The clock is ticking… for young academics and for Recognition & Rewards

Bedtime. I am reading my daughter Michael Ende’s classic Momo: the strange story of the time thieves. The book, according to Wikipedia, explores ‘the concept of time and how it is used by humans in modern societies.’ Before I tuck her in, we talk about the magic of time: a person’s most valuable resource that, paradoxically, cannot or should not be commodified if we are to retain any joy in life – or work, for that matter. Because when I am downstairs again, there seem to be endless choices waiting for me on how to best ‘spend’ my precious work hours.

  • Tonight, will I reply to the journalist asking me to comment on some current affairs supposedly related to my expertise? (impact!) Or will I finalize this Radboud Young Academy blog post? (academic citizenship!)
  • Next week, will I follow up with the various partners from an inspiring international consortium work package, proactively checking in on their progress and challenges by offering an online meeting? (leadership!) Or should I go with the convenient ‘no news is good news’ assumption to free up time to finally finish an as-of-yet half-baked paper? (output!)
  • For the upcoming term, shall I develop the idea of an extracurricular seminar series on current affairs with some enthusiastic colleagues? (education!) Or do I plan for another fieldwork period to make the most of my ongoing project? (research!)
  • For the years ahead, do I apply for a follow-up grant to my current project right away? (research!) Or should I pass on this chance to make the time to take on more education-related coordination tasks and pursue my senior teaching qualification? (teaching!)

Sometimes the choices we face as academics are trade-offs within the various domains of academic life: apply for a grant or write a paper; innovate a course or mentor a student; write an op-ed or go to a policy conference; review a paper or attend an editorial meeting. But, as illustrated above, very often dilemmas also relate to prioritizing one academic domain over the other. It is in making specifically these choices that more clearly institutionalized commitments in terms of Recognition & Rewards would be incredibly helpful.

If darlings are to be killed, it’s helpful to be able to assess the consequences: are societal impact and academic citizenship still celebrated if it means less publications?; is good leadership still acknowledged if it comes at the cost of media exposure or policy impact?; does quality over quantity in terms of papers actually get you promoted?; is making a good course better celebrated as much as creating a new one from scratch?

Because in the end, no matter how creative and win/win we try to be, there comes a point where time does feel like a finite resource and choices have to be made. Not all of this needs to be career-minded calculation. Much of it is driven by our own ideas of what we think a ‘good academic’ should or would do. But we do not operate in a vacuum and some more clarity on what our institutions regard as a ‘good academic’ is important. It is exactly this that Recognition & Rewards has promised and must offer.

~ Nora Stel