#4: Success is rarely about finishing anything…

Name: Jenny Pickerill

Twitter: @JennyPickerill

What didn’t go to plan this week/month?

I did not manage to finish writing an article I had wanted to. I continue to underestimate how long writing takes and just when I feel like I really get started I have to push it aside again and move onto another task. I write best when I have managed to protect a whole week for just writing and I do not read email or social media.

What is one thing you achieved today/this week? 

It was an administrative task – reviewing 32 promotion applications. Now that I am Head of Department I spend 4 days a week doing HoD tasks. It took a long time but I wanted to ensure that I had done it properly.

What is success to you?

I am still trying to make myself redefine what I think success is. I still fall into believing it is about research achievements – publications and securing grants. On a bad day I find myself checking out my Google H-index and comparing it to my peers. Then I catch myself and rethink. It is vital for me to separate success in academia from success in life. Success in academia has to be reduced to a simpler notion of doing your daily job as well as possible in the time you are paid for. Some days success for me is that I attended meetings I need to, I do my teaching, I answer the important emails, I support colleagues and then I go home at a decent time. Other days success can be as small as writing 300 words of an article. Success is very rarely about finishing anything, I have had to let go of aligning success with completion. Most things I do in academia remain unfinished, partial, and incomplete. Most things reach a point where I just have to walk away and recognised that I did what I could in the time available. I am still learning how to be kinder to myself when judging what success means.

What are you proud of?

Trying, and it remains a work in progress, to hold onto my principles. Looking back at my career and
seeing that a commitment to equality, fairness and a politics of challenging power, runs through
much of my work and teaching. This pride is tempered by a recognition that I work in a hierarchical,
unfair system which privileges those of a certain class, race and gender. A system from which I have
definitely benefitted, but one that I am keen to continue to challenge.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Realise that however hard you work rewards in academia are uneven and unpredictable. Success, however you define it, is not tied to how much effort you put in. I have had unexpected recognition for work I was unsure about or did quickly, and many a rejection for work I spent years on and thought was some of my best. 

This is what success looks like to me: 

Doing work I love in amazing places:

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