Are you thriving or surviving?

We are lucky to have another guest post from the amazing mathematician and educator Candice Price, who recently moved to Southern California!

Maybe I am just too demanding? Maybe I am just like my advisor, too busy? Recently, this thought left me thinking a lot about my academic future. I discussed this with one of my mentors, and favorite people, Chelsea Walton and she posed the following question to me: “Candice (this is what she calls me), are you thriving or surviving?” Having just started a tenure track position, this question came at a critical time in my career. Thinking about my career in these terms, striving versus surviving, I focused on the following aspects of my career.

Is tenure track for me?
Yes… I have decided to start with an easy question. Next we will solve world hunger. But seriously, this is an important question to ask. Before starting a tenure track position, I knew it was what I wanted, it was what I am “supposed” to want as an academic. But as I started in my tenure track position, I began to wonder if it actually was something I wanted. I believe these second thoughts are natural. It is necessary to take a moment and say “Is this what I want? Does this model of career fit my life best?” I truly believe that possible answers can include: no, maybe, it better, who knows, works for now, and yes.

Does this space work for my personal life?
As you may know from a previous blog post, work life balance is an important aspect of the life of any academic. When I decided to move from San Francisco to Iowa City, IA to start a PhD program, I was sure I was making a horrible mistake as a single black female. Even my friends and family had a look of dread on their faces as I drove away. But we were all mistaken, thankfully. During my time at U of Iowa, I was able to have a great personal life while also staying engaged academically. It was in fact due to my fellow classmates. We took care of each other, made sure that we helped each other push away from grading, grant writing, emails, lesson plans, research, etc. to eat sleep and laugh. It is important to be in a place where you are able to do that.

Do I have a proper balance of the three pillars of academics: teaching, research, and service?
Finally we have gotten to the part of the post where I tell you what is the perfect balance! It’s whatever works for you! Wait? Where are you going? C’mon hear me out. For me the perfect balance allows me to spend equal time on each pillar. I often do this by combining them into one project. When I taught a course similar to math for liberal arts, I gave the students a project of created a math for children’s book. I am currently writing a paper about that experience while preparing the books for children at a HeadStart program allowing me to do service to our community by engaging people of all ages in mathematics. But, I am choosing to view the pillars in this way, because it is what works for me. Perhaps a different balance is better for you: More toward teaching, less toward service or more toward research and less toward teaching. The idea is to find a balance that works for you, and a place where you can live as close as possible to that balance.

Focusing on these three questions helped me understand if I was thriving or surviving. At some point we all live in either of those spaces. Sometimes all we can do is survive. But I hope that we can each strive to thrive.

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