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How to be an Academic Superhero

Establishing and Sustaining a Successful Career in the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities

Iain Hay

In universities across the world, academics struggle to establish and sustain their careers while satisfying intensifying institutional demands. Drawing from the author’s decades of observation and experience in academia, this exceptional book responds to the challenges of fostering and sustaining a successful academic career.
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Chapter 6: Focus your powers

Establishing and Sustaining a Successful Career in the Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities

Iain Hay


While you may have diverse interests, reflecting your brilliance and capacity to connect and see wonder in everything around you, your academic career will probably be more objectively successful if you specialize and get known for your particular capabilities (Feibelman, 2011, pp. 2–4; Gray and Drew, 2012, p. 10). People contact known experts for advice, to participate in events, to write papers, to contribute chapters, to be reviewers, and to deliver keynote addresses at conferences. That is, many objective measures of academic success follow from being known for your specific expertise.

So, as early as feasible, work out who you are (as a scholar), what you are doing, what you do well, and where you are going in your career. It may be trite to say but to sustain a successful long-term academic career it is critical that you not only have a publicly discernible research theme but that you also work on matters you regard as important or significant. Follow your heart and your desire. Little could be more dispiriting and stultifying for a scholar than going to work each day to face trivial intellectual problems. Although your own interests and passions are vital, do not discount the need for the challenges you identify to be important to others. High-quality work of personal significance may be satisfying and valuable to the overall development of knowledge, but it may not be as helpful to the development of your career. Stake out your claim...

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