Centering your writing: Think about your academic activities in terms of “pay-off”

by | Feb 15, 2018 | academic writing, mindset

In the culture of academia, we’re not really supposed to think about money. Yes, we are encouraged to go out and bring big money grants into our university, but we are not supposed to think about paying ourselves, or working for a certain amount of money.

This causes all kinds of unfortunate money mindset issues for academics. We hesitate to negotiate salary (will we be seen as greedy?). We work way beyond the number of hours we are actually compensated for (culture of over-work). We take on more and more and more for the same amount of pay.

I definitely feel icky when thinking of the university as a business, particularly when this positions students as clients or customers. But we are naive to think that universities aren’t businesses, to some extent. And in that scenario, faculty often end up squeezed from all directions so that the university gets the most bang for their buck.

In this blog post, I want to explore ways that it can be healthy to think of your time like a business person would. I ask you just to open your mind a bit for the next 1,000 words or so, and hear me out.


What activities have the biggest impact on salary?

The number one complaint of the academic women I work with is that you don’t have enough time. The reason you don’t have enough time is that you are doing too many things. Really, you are. So let’s break that down a little.

I use the term “academic activities” to talk about all the diverse things you do related to your academic work. These often roughly group into teaching, research, and service, but you all know that there are many, many, different types of activities within each of these buckets, and they can range in complexity from updating your syllabus to running a multi-million dollar grant project.

Some of these academic activities have a bigger pay-off than others. For right now, let’s think about pay-off in terms of actual cold, hard cash (there are lots of types of pay-off, but today I want to focus on money). First, let’s think about the ways in which you can make more money as an academic without taking on more work:

  1. You can get promoted.
  2. You can go on the market, get another offer, and negotiate your salary.
  3. You can move institutions to take on a higher paying position.

To accomplish any of these three things, you need publications. So if you think of pay-off in terms of money, writing is your highest money-making academic activity.

Now just take a minute and check yourself. Are you thinking, “But it’s OK that my writing keeps falling to the bottom of the list because I didn’t get into academia to be rich”?

I’m not talking about getting rich. I’m talking about getting appropriately compensated for the work that you do. I’m talking about really taking a cold, hard look at where you are putting your time and how that relates to your salary.


Overcoming the gender gap in academia

The gender gap in academic pay is “going strong,” according to a 2017 article in Fortune magazine. Much of the gap was attributed to the fact that “men outnumber women two to one among full professors, but women make up the majority of assistant professors, lecturers, and instructors.” The Guardian reports that it will take at least 40 years for the gender gap to close if it continues at its current pace.

At the risk of over-simplifying, what do you need to move up in rank? That’s right. Publications.

In addition, women are doing more of the “academic housekeeping” (aka service) activities than men. An article in the journal Research in Higher Education reports that women do about 1.5 more service assignments than men (see the details here, read the scholarly article here). The researchers explain, “Devoting too much time to these activities can influence a scholar’s career. Because tenure and raises tend to reflect factors like research and teaching more than service, a gender discrepancy can mean that female professors could earn less and receive fewer promotions overall.”

I’m not trying to tell you not to do service. You need to do some amount of service to get promoted, and when you do service in a way that aligns with your academic mission, then it can be greatly rewarding. But should your service commitments keep bumping your writing? No. No, they should not.


The 80/20 rule for your academic career

Business people (especially entrepreneurs) love to talk about the “80/20” rule. This “rule” states that 80% of your revenue comes from 20% of the work that you do. The idea is to identify the 20% and double-down your effort on those activities.

In academia, that 20% is writing.

So here’s the big idea: Center your writing, control your career.

What would a business person do if she realized that the key to advancing, to bigger pay-off, is writing more? She would write more. She would make it the biggest priority. She would invest her time and money in ways to get better at doing more writing.

But I realized that in the sometimes screwed up culture of academia, we don’t really have built-in ways to learn how to write more. So I created one: The Write More Workshop. 🙂

The Write More Workshop is a one day live event that helps you put writing at the center of your career (where it belongs). You’ll leave with the tools, mindset, and work plan to make lasting change to your academic writing practice.

Registration is open now (register before March 1 take advantage of early bird registration!) and the workshop will be held in Philadelphia, PA on July 17th.

Register now!


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