Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"A 7-year postdoc"

A Harvard professor of computer science, Radhika Nagpal, writes about her process of getting tenure by pretending it was a 7-year postdoc:
Seven things I did during my first seven years at Harvard. Or, how I loved being a tenure-track faculty member, by deliberately trying not to be one.
  • I decided that this is a 7-year postdoc.
  • I stopped taking advice.
  • I created a “feelgood” email folder.
  • I work fixed hours and in fixed amounts.
  • I try to be the best “whole” person I can.
  • I found real friends.
  • I have fun “now”.
I don't know what to think about it, but I am not in a position to have an informed opinion on the subject. But it's been zinging its way around the internet, so there you are. 

[Some of these ideas (especially the "real friends" part) seem really, really true. My problem with a lot of these sorts of "I beat the odds by not following the crowd!" essays is that everyone is the hero of their own story. It would mean more to me if I were to read an essay written by a 3rd party that said "Professor Nagpal is such an academic maverick!"; I am sure they exist.]


  1. I don't think the phrase "a 7-year postdoc" has quite the connotation she thinks it does.

  2. CJ "I don't know what to think about it"

    Well, it's about a human being asked to be a non-human, and how this human is coping with that.

  3. Aside from the obvious (she is a computer science faculty). In my experience, there is a different psychology people have if they need to succeed in order not to starve, pay off debt, keep a roof over their head and their loved ones as opposed to those who succeed for the sheer passion, pride, and desire of success. In the latter, you are able to make a positive spin on the consequences of your actions if you aren't at the mercy of your mistakes for your very survival. The latter is less risk averse and seems to stumble on more success. The former, they seem to be on the cycle of just surviving. This is what drives me bonkers about the world we live in today, and the economic structure of our society. Our lives, and our families lives can not be held so much at the mercy of our successes and failures if we truly expect to accomplish "something".

  4. The Aqueous LayerJuly 24, 2013 at 8:55 AM

    Being that she managed to get tenure, we can all assume that she's incredibly efficient and, most likely, incredibly brilliant.

    Imagine a professor in the chemistry department at Harvard putting in 50h/week trying to get tenure...

    1. Joanna Aizenberg? I can easily picture her putting in only 40-50 hours a week. Although technically she is not in chemistry.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20