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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 26: Find a voluntary role

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

Iain Hay


Some scholars reject volunteering as a constituent of their career, with claims that they ‘need to get publications out’ or they ‘don’t have enough time’ amidst all their other activities. Especially for an early-career academic these declarations may have some merit, but it is unwise to be completely dismissive of profession-related volunteer work as an element of career success. Not only can volunteering provide relatively light relief from the sometimes seemingly relentless demands of teaching and research, it can also allow you to do some good in communities meaningful to you while opening up other useful, enriching opportunities. In short, as well as contributing to objective understandings of career success, volunteering locally and further afield can be a fundamental contributor to subjective career success, offering paths to life satisfaction and contributions to society.

Pragmatically, volunteering can enlarge and diversify personal and professional networks. The people you meet through your activities may know of job opportunities, useful cognate organizations and other people who may be interested in your work. For example, as Fiske (2010, p. 123) points out: ‘Serving on the advisory board of a company or a local educational institution can help you connect to your community and unearth opportunities for consulting or collaboration. For example, volunteering at a science museum might turn into a collaborative science-education project’. Or, as Zoe Cournia discovered, volunteering to speak at her home country’s universities during regular trips there from the United States and Germany eventually helped her...

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