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  • Writer's pictureSorina I. Crisan, PhD

Academic Success: Career Advice for Junior Scholars from 5 Experienced Academics

In each interview conducted for Persuasive Discourse, our knowledgeable interviewees are asked to share advice or suggestions for young scholars interested in following a similar line of research and work such as theirs. This article compiles and reviews the thoughtful academic advice offered by the last five academics interviewed on this website, who work and live in: Denmark, Switzerland, and the U.S.A. The academics included in this article are: Dr. Jonathan Luke Austin, Dr. Felix Bühlmann, Dr. Anne-Sophie Delval, Dr. Cristina Teleki, Dr. Emily Hencken Ritter. To read each of their complete advice and learn about the unique and crucial work they accomplish, please access the interviews mentioned at the end of this page. It is important to note that, similar to the last academic career related article we published in March 2022 (link here), which quotes the previous five academics we interviewed, the humble goal of the advice discussed here is to help inspire and guide junior scholars who are at the beginning of their academic careers.

Advice on how to succeed in academia. Persuasive Discourse. December 2022. Article by Sorina I. Crisan, PhD. Photo by Bookblock, Unsplash.

Note: This article has been written based on excerpts from interviews published by Persuasive Discourse, between March and November 2022.

The question of how to attain early career success is crucial for junior academics yet, as Dr. Austin mentions: “This is actually a difficult question to answer because every person will give you a different advice.” In line with the same thought, Dr. Teleki is “not adept at providing advice because” she believes that “the best advice should be personal and based on a person’s unique history and aspirations.”

However challenging it is for the interviewees mentioned in this article to give personalized advice to junior scholars whom they have never met, the academics mentioned here overcame this constraint by instead reflecting on their individual career trajectory and highlighting some of the points that they would have seen as valuable to know about, early during their career. As such, following is a list of ten pieces of advice given by the five academics who are mentioned in the introduction.

1. Know that there is no fixed way of succeeding in academia.

While reflecting on her academic career, Dr. Emily Hencken Ritter stated that overall: “There is not a single path through your career.”

In line with the aforementioned idea, Dr. Jonathan Luke Austin argues that from his experience, “there is no actual fixed way of succeeding in academia. Meaning, there is no fixed recipe, or routine, in terms of how this works because of the precariousness of the profession.” He goes on to state that: “In my blunt opinion, it needs to be acknowledged that if somebody gives you a fixed recipe for succeeding in academia (for example: publish X number of articles, do your dissertation on Y topic, use this methodology and not that one, etc.) then that recipe will almost always fail. So, do not follow fixed recipes, and instead recognize that the most important thing is that you do something that you care about, that you are interested in, and that you really want to learn something about in depth. That is the most important thing because the motivation in writing a dissertation is crucially important.”

2. Choose to do work that matters to you.

It is important to keep in mind that “the work you choose to do matters” (Dr. Hencken Ritter). And you have to choose a topic to work on that speaks to you. For instance, while discussing her academic choice to study international relations, Dr. Anne-Sophie Delval says that: “You do not have to already be “international,” to be interested in international issues!”

3. Realize that you can spend time on learning about what you want.

“The PhD is a time during which you can, and should, learn new skills of all kinds […]. You have the time to try to improve your skills and in time, you will become better at whatever you choose to do” (Dr. Delval).

4. Invest time in creating and growing your academic network of scholars who work on similar topics to yours.

“I think the best advice is to reach out to other young scholars who are doing research within this line of work because today, there are so many excellent young scholars interested in better understanding the ‘elites.’ I think there is a vibrant and growing community of researchers around the topics of elites, power, and inequality” (Dr. Felix Bühlmann).

5. Surround yourself with people who help build you up.

“Reverend Evans is an amateur astronomer who holds the record for visual discoveries of supernovae. He has spent many nights simply observing the, otherwise, uneventful sky. I often think about Reverend Evans’ wife who must have spent many nights without his supernova-hunting husband. Their example reminds me how important the choice of the life partner is. Research and writing involve lengthy periods of solitary work and require a life partner who understands and is able to respect a closed door, procrastination, or suddenly jumping off the dinner table to end a paragraph or an argument. They can also push you to apply for that job you think is out of your league or pull you out – sometimes with the smell of a freshly baked dish – of a phrase that should have been finished hours earlier” (Dr. Cristina Teleki).

6. Create a physical workspace that makes you feel happy, safe, and productive.

““A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction” – wrote Virginia Wolf in A Room of One’s Own – this advice applies to writing any form of non-fiction as well, including academic writing. To be able to do research and write one needs a desk and a room to work. This is often overlooked by management gurus who invite readers to focus on big dreams and productivity. In my experience though, what I find essential for research and writing is having a room with a door that I can close” (Dr. Teleki).

7. Choose to meet, on a regular basis, with a professional academic coach who can objectively assess, evaluate, and help guide your career.

“I think coaching should accompany every academic career. I don’t mean here the coaching offered by our mentors, family, and friends. I mean the coaching offered by a professional who can objectively assess, evaluate, and guide you on a weekly or monthly basis. I think this kind of accompaniment would result in less stressful and more productive academic lives” (Dr. Teleki).

8. Be proud of who you are and where you come from.

“Do not idealize anyone and be proud of where you come from. You do not have to be perfect, and you do not need to already know everything […]. All the skills and competences you will choose to gain will help lead you to new opportunities in your career” (Dr. Delval).

9. Acknowledge that working in academia is a privilege, but that in the end it is just a job.

It is important to “realize that it is a big privilege to be in academia because it gives you the ability to think freely, while having a lot of freedom in your professional life, but you also need to realize that it is just a job. Academia should not be taken too seriously. It is an important job but, all jobs are important and there are many other things to do of value other than being in academia. And so, you should not lose the perspective on the fact that it is simply another job, quite a privileged job (i.e., in terms of what you get to do), but it is still just another job. There are much more important things in life than academia” (Dr. Austin).

10. Do not take anyone’s advice as gospel: Only do what feels right for you.

Do “not take any one person’s word as gospel” (Dr. Austin).

Thank you for reading.

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Sannia Abdullah Close, PhD. Interview for Persuasive Discourse, by Sorina I. Crisan PhD. Photo from the Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) webpage.

Sorina I. Crisan, PhD

Researcher, Analyst, Interviewer, & Writer in International Relations & Related Fields


Are you inspired by this article and would like to learn more about the different work done by the academics mentioned here? Is so, please read the interviews conducted with them by Persuasive Discourse.

Crisan, Sorina I. “Rights Violations, Domestic Conflict, Protest & Comics: Interview with Emily Hencken Ritter, PhD.” Persuasive Discourse, 18 November, 2022. Available online here.

Crisan, Sorina I. “Political Violence, Design, Critique & Prevention: Interview with Jonathan Luke Austin, PhD.” Persuasive Discourse, 18 October, 2022. Available online here.

Crisan, Sorina I. “Analyzing the Swiss & U.S. Financial, Political & Academic Elites: Interview with Felix Bühlmann, PhD.” Persuasive Discourse, 6 September, 2022. Available online here.

Crisan, Sorina I. “Insights from Working in Afghanistan & Ukraine: Interview with Cristina Teleki, PhD.” Persuasive Discourse, 31 May, 2022. Available online here.

Crisan, Sorina I. “Swiss Education & Hospitality Industry: Interview with Anne-Sophie Delval, PhD.” Persuasive Discourse, 23 March, 2022. Available online here.

Illustrations by: The main article photo is by Bookblock, downloaded from Unsplash, courtesy of photo gallery. Dr. Crisan’s profile photo is made available by Konstantin Kleine Photography.

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