March Madness and the Making of a Winning Team

You Need To Have The Right Team Chemistry – In Sports As Well As In Academia. Find Out Why Camaraderie, Mentorship, And Professional Development Are Essential For Winning As An Assistant Professor.

If you’re anything like me, you have been hoarse, anxiety-stricken, and anticipating the end of this thing. No – I’m not talking about March Madness (who am I kidding, I am!!! #GoBlue!!!!). I’m talking about the sprint to the end of the semester and thriving – not just surviving – in academia.

As I utilized the concept of a 64-team bracket to teach my lab about coding, I thought about what magical components would need to come together for a team to make it to the Final Four and the championship game. In other words, I considered how a first year Assistant Professor could make it to the glorious end of the semester.

There are 3 things that are crucial to anyone making it through: 1) the players [camaraderie], 2) a bomb coach [mentorship], and 3) the development and execution of skills [professional development].

  • The Players [Camaraderie]: You’ve done the campus visit – now you gotta see how the team actually plays together. Do your colleagues come to your office to say hello? Are there activities planned to continue that conversation you were having at the water cooler? Do they pass you the ball (errrr, career opportunity?) when they see you wide open and waving your hands? Such elements of social capital in the workplace are important contributors to one’s overall health and well-being. Minimizing the significance of relationships between you and your colleagues may be a strategy that some employ, but adults can spend the vast majority of their waking week at work, so it’s important to look at the other players on the court to assess your sustainability in the squad.

  • A Bomb Coach [Mentorship]: Listen Coach K. You’re a legend. We get it. But not everyone is going to get your expert coaching. Does it matter that my coach is trash? Come to find out, it does. In the same way camaraderie is important within the workplace, so too is mentorship. Mentored employees, particularly in academia, reported a bevy of positive psychological, behavioral, and importantly, career outcomes. One may think that after graduate school, for example, mentorship is no longer needed. Yet the mentor, akin to a coach, can see the whole court relative to your perspective. They have strategies to accomplish challenging defenses. And, without them, there is little integration of varying goals between players. That is, my work may benefit greatly from another player, but I may be unable to see it from my placement on the court. The career mentor can really be an important contributor to a collaborative environment and personal success.

  • The Development and Execution of Skills [Professional Development]: The skills that we have to learn in a new environment at a new level are critical to our making it as All Stars. Back on the block, you could out-dribble any of your neighbors. But now that this 6”10’ defender with a wing-span as wide as the Grand Canyon is in your face, you need an outlet. Certainly, you can rely on passing the ball to other players. And yes, the coach can call a special play. But when it’s the last few seconds of the game and you have to get past this obstacle, what are you going to do? Indeed, what are the different resources you are finding that can contribute to your knowledge of your subject and how are you advocating for yourself to get them? Do others include you on relevant trainings and workshops? Can you think of ways to employ various strategies to get out of the jam? In one study, researchers found that more effective professional development opportunities were composed of: a) content knowledge, b) active learning, and c) coherence with other learning activities. They happened often. They were specific. And they required coordination with other activities. Thus, to get out of the corner jam with 5 seconds left, you have to have practiced getting out of the jam.

At the end of the semester, we should be truly mindful of the team, mentorship, and opportunities that we have encountered along the way. It’s one thing to be “done” with the semester, but as I always ask, what was the quality by which you did it? Are you satisfied, fulfilled…do you feel like a winner? Ensure that your squad is the right support for you and your talents as you strive towards your goals.

 By Riana Elyse Anderson, PhD

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