Career Goals

I have been thinking recently about how I would like my career to be. I am trying to narrow my focus so that I can figure out what is important (and then say “no” to things that get in the way of the important thing). Then I had a serendipitous conversation with my wife last night. She was making a list of “values” for herself. This list will help her make decisions about what she should and should not do in the future.

I realized that this is exactly what I have been considering recently, only I have been thinking about my “career values” rather than “life values” (this is not a perfect match—the word “goals” applies much more to my example than hers).

So here is what I currently have for a list of values. These are the things that I want to focus on for my career, and I will work to minimize things that do not belong on this list. This is also only a draft—I will be preparing my tenure file this summer, and I will do some deeper thinking about this then.

  1. I want to continue to improve my teaching. This is the most obvious one, but it should be included.
  2. I want to do research in finite group theory. This is one of the two values that has the least direction. So far, I have kind of been all over the place in my research, and not in a good way. The only theme I have seen so far is “I seem to be interested in maximal subgroups.”
  3. I want to help K-12 teachers improve their teaching. This is mostly done by teaching pre-service courses, but this could be met in other ways.
  4. I want to help close the gender gap in mathematics. Kate Owens has been inspiring me on this lately, and it is the value that I have the very least direction on. I have also only begun to think about it. At some point, I am going to have to sit down and read a bunch of the literature.

This is my list for now. This means that my default answer should be “no” to any other requests of my time (in theory, at least). For instance, I had considered eventually running for Chair of the Faculty Senate, but faculty governance is much less important to me than these four things. So I will stop actively thinking about this, although I would be happy to be a senator again in the Faculty Senate (which requires a lot less time—I have to do some service, after all).

Has anyone else thought of their careers like this? Any advice?

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10 Responses to “Career Goals”

  1. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist Says:

    Awesome list! I love number 1, and I think it would be number one for me too. I wonder about number 2, though. It seems to confining. Can you articulate what about that research that you like without saying the area involved?

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Hi Andy,

      I would love to do that for the second “value,” but I am not there yet. This is partially why it is one of the two worst-defined ones.

      How would you answer “2”? Bret

  2. TJ Says:

    I look forward to your next post: “Outcomes Assessment for Bret’s professional goals.”

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Um. . .so am I.

      I hadn’t thought that far ahead, although I suppose it would be smart (if I were capable of doing it). It is always nice to throw an _Understanding By Design_ principle into any portion of one’s life. Bret

  3. Joss Ives Says:

    Hi Bret. I have been doing something similar but have not done the nice job itemizing my values like you have. For me it has been about what sort of scholarly and research projects I want to take on. And the conclusion I came to earlier this school year is that I need to limit my focus to ones which have direct benefit in the courses I teach. So things that I want to be continue doing are things like measuring efficacy of teaching methods that I use or developing expertise in python. This has really helped me frame the research questions I want to pursue as well as what sort of scholarly activities I want to pursue.

  4. gasstationwithoutpumps Says:

    I spent most of my sabbatical last year thinking about what I wanted to do next, playing with various types of research and reading a lot about teaching. A big decision for me was the teaching/research balance, because I’ve gotten very tired of the grant rat race, which seems to me designed to impede rather than speed research.

    Don’t think of your career choices as life-long decisions, but work on a realistic time frame (5 to 10 years is about the longest you should plan). I’ve changed fields in fairly big ways every 10–15 years—you should be open to that possibility as well.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      Thanks for the advice. Fortunately for me, I can’t think more than three years into the future even if I wanted to (and three might be generous). So that won’t be a problem.

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