Reconceptualizing jobs, trades, professions and careers as a series of projects and experiments

Jobs, trades, professions and careers typically provide tangible (e.g., economic) and intangible benefits.

But this approach to earning an income often comes with a considerable amount of unstated, unarticulated, unrealistic, poorly articulated and understood baggage.

This baggage includes the numerous challenges and sacrifices that one must make to complete a course of studies, earn a certification, diploma, degree, or licensing requirement one must pass in order to enter the field, possibly finding one or more mentors, and then time in grade to reach a position where one achieves mastery and perhaps some modicum of work autonomy.

The downsides of particular jobs, trades, professions and careers often makes aspirants (i.e., people attempting to enter this type of work), and journeymen (i.e., those who currently occupy these positions) frustrated, stressed or burned out, and may even force them to question why they chose the career path, and consider quitting the job, trade, or profession (e.g., the great resignation), or engage in such contemporary practices known as quiet quitting.

Granted nothing says that you must work your chosen career for your entire life and empirical evidence bears this out. People change professions on a regular basis.

Meanwhile, for many, it may be difficult to exit a career especially if they are used to a particular income level, can’t change their work location, and if their identity is closely tied to the profession.

Short of visiting a career counsellor or reading another book on career development, there are a handful of options that those who are frustrated with their careers might take.

One suggestion, that is rarely advocated, is to reconceptualize work as a series of projects and experiments. This approach is not necessarily unique in professions where the boss or team are trying to solve a problem, or launch a new product or service. But with other kinds of industries and work, there may be opportunities to reconsider ones approach to work in the manner that I am describing.

Well-designed projects (and experiments) typically have a relatively well laid out plan and they have a start, beginning, and end. They also have one or more mechanisms to determine if the project or experiment achieved its objective/s. One of the dominant questions the worker should then ask is did the effort succeed or fail based on the criteria that were established at the beginning? For example, in teaching a class that I have taught numerous times before, I frequently experiment with new resources and approaches to teaching subject matter. I introduce the material, and try to gather feedback. If the new material succeeded I try to determine why and if it failed I want to know too.

Not everyone has the luxury to reconceptualize their job, work, trade, profession or career, as a series of projects or experiments, but some of us do. But this subtle shift, however, may make the difference between career anomie and fulfillment.

How you conduct your work is your business, but having a framework that enables you to cut through the bullshit to better understand what you do may help you better achieve your goals.

Photo Credit: Luther College Archives

Blog posts I share with my incoming undergraduate criminology/criminal justice students

As the new semester begins, I often struggle with selecting content that I want my undergraduate criminology/criminal justice students to read.

In addition to a core textbook, and a handful of articles and book chapters, I share five blog posts with them.

The first one, “What do gym memberships and higher education have in common?” attempts to clarify how college and university education is a unique economic transactions, especially compared to other ones most people participate in.

Second, I believe it’s important that students, and undergrads in particular, know who is providing instruction in their classes. That is why I usually share my blog post, “Who’s teaching this college course anyways and why does it matter.

Third, more specific to the field of criminology/criminal justice, I think that it’s helpful for undergrads to understand that not all expertise is the same. That is why I will usually share, “Who is the real criminologist and other uncomfortable questions about expertise.”

Fourth, I strongly believe that many people have challenges with their reasoning ability and undergraduates are no different. That is why they need to know the difference between fact and opinions. For this reason I share with them “Undergrads need to know the difference between expressing facts versus opinions.”

Finally, to round things out, in order to motivate them to draw the connection between what they do in the classroom and their chosen profession, I assign “Why writing well is important for criminal justice practitioners.”

Although many of the lessons I try to impart have been built upon my experience conducting research and teaching mostly in the criminology/criminal justice field, the information contained in these blogs is applicable to a wide variety of academic disciplines. Some of the points may also help graduate students as well.

Reading blogs is often less intimidating for students than having to face a big thick textbook, or a scholarly article, and because of the conversational tone, undergrads often understand the points that are made much quicker.

In the end, I hope that my students become critical about their role in the post-secondary education infrastructure, the people and institutions that are employed to deliver instruction, and do their best in this setting and beyond.

Photo Credit: The Focal Project
Concept photo of undergraduate.

Quitting Academia: Is the grass really greener on the other side?

The COVID-19 pandemic tested (and continues to exert an impact on) numerous aspects of daily life. Nowhere has this been more profound than with lots of peoples’ relationship with their jobs, work, and careers. Many individuals discovered how much their work cared about them and vice versa.

Some workers struggled and prevailed. They were able to make the transition to remote or hybrid work and feel good about the outcome. Others had come to Jesus moments questioning their commitment to their jobs, bosses, co-workers, employers, etc. This situation led to such phenomena as quiet quitting, and the great resignation.

Academia has witnessed similar patterns. Numerous people connected to colleges and universities, from Ph.D. students quitting their programs to tenured full professors have announced that they are leaving or have left.

Their complaints centered around major themes like an overabundance of uncompensated service, toxic work environments, the publish or perish treadmill, shitty salaries, overwork, overly ideological or woke departments and scholarly fields, and the high sacrifice versus rewards of academia.

Some of the people who quit academia did this relatively silently while others announced it on social media, occasionally with rounds of applause from friends, colleagues and followers.

A handful of those who are leaving academia indicate that they are now working for nonprofits, or in the private sector, and some are more specific with respect to the job they are moving to (generally tech-related).

I get it academia is not perfect. It never was and will never be. And to succeed the average academic has to eat a lot of shit.

Unless you are independently wealthy, just won the lottery, or expect to get a big inheritance, my biggest question to those quitting academia is do you really think things will be that much better outside of academia? Most jobs and careers have significant drawbacks, including the ones people identify as their reasons for quitting academia (albeit in greater or lesser quantities).

For example, if quitting academia enables you to move to your dream location, what is the cost of living, availability of appropriate social connections, alternative job opportunities, and working conditions there? Will the new job situation really allow you to spend more time with your loved ones?

If the job you’re moving to has a considerably higher salary, will you have to work longer hours, a significantly different time zone, or even twelve months a year?

Many people want at least a middle class income. Some believe that this is attainable by working in an in demand profession. But most of those careers (e.g., architects, engineers, lawyers, etc.) also require entry level workers to work long hours (and make sacrifices) if they want to make it to the next rung to escape from the more mundane aspects of the job.

Alternatively if you want to open your own business (or work for a startup) this often requires long hours and you are faced with lots of unpredictable kinds of curve balls, not to mention the damning statistic that most businesses fail within the first year.

I’m not saying don’t quit academia, but think twice about quitting the hallowed halls of colleges and universities for the reasons you proffer, and assume that the grass is always greener on the other side.