Academia as bracketology (a metaphor)

You’re obsessed with March Madness.  Who isn’t?  I love some college ball and as I’ve tuned in to check out the games over the past few days, I couldn’t help but think that academia was much like the NCAA tournament.

We’re all trying to get the big trophy, the accolades, the Nike/Gatorade contract for sponsorship. In our world, it’s more like a top tier journal, a consulting gig that blossoms into a full fledged side job, grants and contracts, and building a pension/retirement plan that will actually allow you to retire before you need an oxygen mask just to get to lecture.

  • making it into the tournament (grad school)
  • making it to the 32 (graduating)
  • making it to the sweet 16 (getting hired)
  • getting to the elite 8 (pubs and packets)
  • making it to the final four (going up for tenure)

Your selection into it was a bit like grad school.  It may or may not have happened on a Sunday.  No, there was no ESPN going over your selections for four hours either before your name was announced at XYZ university.

Making it past the first round of the show is sort of like graduating.  The attrition rate or rate of ABD’s who never complete is still pretty high.  Getting over the hump and sticking with grad school can be really tough.

Getting hired–that’s like making it to the sweet 16.  In this economy, it’s rough!  Forget landing your ‘dream job’ right away, these days, folks are happy to have work.  I know I am.

The elite 8–working towards tenure, or whatever other goal(s) you have set.  Maybe this is the time when you set up that side gig, consulting firm, or work on book chapter that may someday lead to your first book.

The final four….the coveted place to be. I think that might be the day you start putting that packet together, re-evaluating your pubs and scholarly work.

The finals: going up for tenure.

The trophy: tenure.  With a drink and a nap immediately after.  And after that….keep on trucking!

As you track your teams and watch your bracket bust, think of it as what happens in life.  Sometimes, we lose our way, sometimes we have to stop the clock and take a time out to reflect.  On occasion, we face some injuries that need time to mend. With Lehigh and Norfolk St. winning in the first round, it can really bust your bracket and friendly office pool, but like life–being the underdog can sometimes work in your favor.

Whatever your sights are set on, I hope you take some time to enjoy the madness and equal amounts of time to relax from it.  Like the NCAA, it will often consume you and while March Madness only lasts a few short weeks, staying the course in academia can last a lifetime (if you want it too).

Enjoy the madness of it all and enjoy the tournament!

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