The demand for guidebooks seems to grow with the increase of social complexity. There are now professors for every conceivable topic. And so there are also various guides for the university sector. However, the hints and tips – with few exceptions – are quite superficial. The reason for this is simple: they underestimate the informal side of the organization, which is so important for everyday organizational life. Educational psychologist Thomas Gotz makes the following points in his guidebook, which has just been published in its second edition "Professor for beginners and advanced students. Tips for (aspiring and building up) professors" much better.*
The proliferating advice market in the field of higher education shows how complex the search for a course of study, the choice of a doctoral topic or a career in higher education has become. The more uncertainty there is, the more advice is sought.
With the increasing complexity of processes at universities and diverse, sometimes contradictory expectations of academic staff, the need for orientation obviously increases. For a successful career at a university, it is no longer enough to teach well or to do excellent research. It also takes negotiation skills and management skills. Guidebook literature can provide ideas on how to consider strategies, manage staff, or prepare for negotiations with university leadership.
Tips for prospective and established scientists
However, there is one thing that these well-intentioned tips rarely provide: Help with the organizational details. The reason for this is simple: guidebooks are too oriented to the formal surface of universities. Only, the everyday life at universities is predominantly coined by interhuman contacts, short official ways or compromises. Not to mention a number of coincidences and opportunities – fate – as many a more or less successful career to the professorship proves.
Organizational research has shown for decades that everyday work cannot be managed at all without informal design, tactics, tricks, and rule deviations. For example, instructors avoid attractive titles for their courses to avoid attracting too many students, or trade good evaluations for foregoing lengthy debriefings. These and other practices are what make it possible to deal with contradictory, if not paradoxical, and conflicting expectations: Inspiring teaching, excellent research, and committed self-governance usually do not go hand in hand.
In the advice literature, however, one looks for these practices of "usable illegality" (Niklas Luhmann) rather in vain. Yet they are crucial to successfully mastering a degree program or completing a book project on time.
This brings us – after a lengthy preface – to the book reviewed here: "Professor*in for beginners and advanced students. Tips for (prospective and emergent) professors."This book is a pleasant exception to the many often superficial guides and irritates in its honesty in places. More on this later.
The self-published booklet (140 pages) is divided into two parts. In the first part Tips for prospective professors "Application, negotiation, start", "research", "teaching", "recruitment", "work and negotiation strategies" or "the working group" are topics here.
In the second edition, following Gotz’s own professional biography, another part has been added, which, according to the performance description of modern university teachers, Tips for professors who build structure includes: "communication and information in the construction", "hierarchies and decisions in the construction", "solving and preventing problems in the construction", etc. The structure of institutes or research training groups is a management task that professors never have to perform. by doing learn. Gotz’s hints and warnings about sometimes nasty practices are therefore very helpful.
The tips are intended to give professors the opportunity to reflect on and optimize their own actions. However, the guidebook is also aimed at the academic mid-level staff and other people who work with professors.
Strategies in the university guerrilla warfare
The topics and tips, which are presented in well-organized sections, are in places reminiscent of a kind of Mao Bible for (new) professors: in addition to life-world tips, such as on the "10 commandments of train travel" (S. 52f.) or "Which server is the right one for the working group??" (S. 44f.), Gotz shows how endless meetings and collegial bickering can be overcome.
For example, it is advantageous to be "grueling repetitive" in meetings and to have as high a share of speech as possible. Care should be taken to "always say the same thing, if possible" (S. 39). Especially in late meetings, this penetration would work wonders, because the fatigue of others can be used to one’s own advantage. Once the other participants are literally finished, it is easier to assert one’s own interests. It is equally helpful to pose naively, he said: That way, you’re more likely to be underestimated: "being underestimated is often an excellent position to be in." (S. 39) When no one is counting on you, you can shoot out and turn the meeting in your favor.
Incidentally, caution is advised with colleagues who "constantly suggest jour fixes"; these "usually don’t have much to do and then often drag out the meetings unnecessarily" (S. 42). For navigating through the thicket of the university help beyond that references to the possibly own, but often existing Hidden Agendas of colleagues (S. 116, 135). Strategies such as "playing for time" can also help to take the wind out of the sails of unwelcome developments. The CC and BCC functions in the mail program have become an important tool for many people. Gotz also shows how these are used strategically and what dysfunctional consequences this can have (S. 131f.).
Often it is these informal and even subversive practices that can bring one to the desired goal. At the very least, however, it is promising to recognize them among colleagues. However, Goetz knows that his tips have side effects, just like any other informal practice. For example, collegiality can quickly be affected if, as described, one appears in meetings. It is also hard to imagine when all parties in a meeting rely on attrition and naivete.
Professors, and those who aspire to be professors, struggle daily with the fact that their job description is contradictory: they are expected to teach, research, and self-govern simultaneously. Many find it difficult to perform these tasks equally in high quality.
Gotz’s guidebook is therefore helpful because it offers assistance for practical everyday work and its interpersonal challenges. These hints and tips will help you to organize your teaching, research and self-administration as efficiently and profitably as possible. The reader will have already heard much of this elsewhere. Time management, for example, is on everyone’s lips, but only a few are really good at it. Therefore, it also helps to read repeatedly that it is beneficial to turn off the mail program and the phone for hours at a time (S. 41). And: "The faster you react, the more e-mails you get." (S. 45).
The same applies to the topic of teamwork. It is to be wished for the employees in the many working groups as well as for their leadership that the latter read and take into account the longer chapter on the organization of working groups.
In a third edition, Thomas Goetz could expand his guidebook to include dimensions such as course design or expand the section on dealing with higher education administration. Especially between the academic and administrative worlds, there is much potential for translation work that could help avoid the various pitfalls.
In principle, it would be desirable if more guidebooks were devoted to the "dark" side of organizational coexistence. Paying more attention to informal practices helps readers reflect on and classify their own actions, but also identify them among colleagues.
Thomas Goetz made a good start here.
Professor for Beginners is published by BoD – Books on Demand, Norderstedt, the 140 pages cost 8,99€. (ISBN 3751944060)