Mapping Your Academic Career: Charting the Course of a Professor’s Life

September 17, 2015 — Leave a comment


It’s a bit of a stretch to think of myself as a professor. I am a teacher, and while I do have graduate education in my field, I don’t have a terminal degree yet. I’m actually kind of in limbo while I’m getting experience teaching and thinking about dissertation ideas. Although I don’t have concrete plans for starting a Ph.D, I at least have an idea what kind of program I’ll do. In the meantime, I’m trying to devote time and energy to professional development and so I thought it would be useful to read Gary Burge’s Mapping Your Academic Career: Charting the Course of a Professor’s Life.

It’s a short book, very conversational and lightly anecdotal. Rather than chapters, Burge divides his discussion after the introduction into three cohorts. These cohorts represent the stages of professional development in a professor’s life, each of which is framed by a question:

  • Cohort 1: Will I find security?
  • Cohort 2: Will I find success?
  • Cohort 3: Will I find significance?

Each of these cohorts has a threshold to cross. The first is getting hired post-Ph.D and situated into a teaching career. The second is moving from simply being a teacher to contributing to your field. The last is establishing a legacy as you move toward retirement years. Burge draws from insights in psychology about how our identities are formed in order to inform his writing. Within each chapter he lays out the traits of someone who is navigating well and highlights the risks that need to be avoided. He also writes as someone who is either late in cohort 2 or early in cohort 3 in his own teaching career. Having successfully navigated most of his own academic career allows Burge to offer readers very sage advice for their own journey.

It was interesting reading through this as someone on the fringe of the academy. I’m still age-wise and career-wise in cohort 1 of Burge’s typology. However, my path to cohort 2 would be non traditional to say the least. While it might seem like the next step is a Ph.D, it seems more profitable at the moment to focus on developing a research focus and starting some preliminary writing. It would be hard to go from where I am in reading and writing to doing a dissertation. Obviously seminars in the North American model are aimed at helping you make that transition, but since I don’t want to do a Ph.D at a seminary or have seminars, I’m kind of doing that part of it on my own. It’s cheaper and easier to fit into my current teaching position, but it is better to read critically in community.

All of that to say, Burge’s book helped me think through some issues and actually provided good motivation for wanting to eventually do that Ph.D and to take seriously some kind of research program in the interim. If you are on the pathway to becoming a scholar, this book is worth checking out. It would be ideal for those currently doing their Ph.D, but with all the other reading that comes with that, it might be better for someone considering a Ph.D program (me), or someone in their first few years of teaching (also me) post Ph.D (not me). If you fit anywhere along that spectrum, give this book a quick read. Also, check out this video of Burge explaining it better than I probably just did:

Gary M. Burge, Mapping Your Academic Career: Charting the Course of a Professor’s Life. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, July 2015. 144 pp. Paperback, $16.00.

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Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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