Developmental Stages in Academic Life: a book review

Gary Burge is professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and boasts a career of over thirty years teaching. He wrote Mapping Your Academic Career as a resource for faculty development programs and to shepherd Academics (or would-be-academics) through the various cohorts of Academic life.

2473Burge draws on the insights of developmental psychology and applies it to academia, particularly the vocation of professor. He identifies three  developmental cohorts that faculty goes through out their careers. Cohort 1, represents professors starting their academic career (rough age range is 28-38);  Cohort 2 are established professors (rough age range 34-55); Cohort 3 are professors nearing the end of their career (age range 50-70) (23).

Each stage in a faculty’s career has its own characteristics, dangers and goals. Professors in cohort 1 are looking for security . This cohort is the stage where professional  core identity is formed,  peer relationships are formed, and professors receive validation from their students and institution (30-43). There are also accompanying risks with this stage: skill failure, failure to assimilate, cynical peer groups, toxic anxiety, challenges unique to female faculty, and issues around personal boundaries (43-55).  If all things go well, cohort 1 comes to a close with security, often in the form of tenure

Cohort 2 is made up of those who found security but are pressing forward to develop a successful career. Here too it is possible for professors to go off the rails (i.e. disengaging and feeling entitled after you receive tenure). Burge warns, “We can fail in any cohort if we are not self-aware” (66).  It is this stage where professors hone their teaching skill,  bring mastery and focus to their disciplines and find ‘their voice’ (67-78). However cohort 2 professors run the risk of failing to develop personally, growing increasingly egocentric,  or experiencing increased dissonance with their academic institution. The proper close of this cohort would mean  mastery in teaching and scholarship, and a successful career.

Cohort 3 is occupied by significance. Professors at this stage experience a change in  their role, sometimes a diminishment. They are no longer the movers-and-shakers and their comptenecy in their disciple may slip as a result. Yet  their understanding of their role and contribution also  changes. A few may become ‘legacy scholars’ with a solid and growing list of publications. Others may become sage elder offering wisdom and mentoring a younger generations (111). This  risks of this cohort include disengaging and disinterest in their careers,  self absorption and reculsivity, technology anxiety, and role confusion. But those who master these will pour into the lives of younger, up-and-coming professors. This cohort closes with retirement.

I am not a career academic but have friends in that world and recognize some of the challenges that Burge describes. I think he has keen insights for professors and faculty development programs. Anyone in that world will find this book extremely helpful, irregardless of whether they teach at a Christian institution like Professor Burge or at secular inistution. I give this book four stars and will be recommending it to several of my friends.

Note: I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

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