Academic life, Coaching

Academic career coaches: 5 ways we can help

Ever wonder if hiring an academic career coach might be right for you? Academic work is often very solitary. There’s an assumption that everyone just “knows” how to succeed. In this context, it can be hard to look for mentorship, support, or advice. But it’s more than okay to want things to be better. Here are my top five reasons to find yourself a career coach!

Woman's hands holding a mug that says "the adventure begins."
Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

1. Getting a Fresh Perspective

Academia is hierarchical. In a perfect world, we’d all be able to turn to our advisors, PIs, department chairs, and deans for support and good counsel. But academia is FAR from perfect. All too often this hierarchy is full of outdated advice, lacklustre mentorship, and unfortunately, outright abuse.

A coach offers a fresh, outside perspective. Unlike an advisor, a coach isn’t invested in you meeting particular career or institutional milestones. A career coach is only invested in helping you reach whatever goals matter to YOU. And because your coach is outside of those power structures, you can be honest about your struggles and needs without fear of judgment or reprisal.

2. Finding Work-Life Balance

Jobs that people see as vocations or callings can be dangerous. You’re supposed to love everything you do and give it everything you have. Academic work can and will expand to fill all the hours you’re willing to give. Before you know it, you feel guilty when you’re NOT working. Health, relationships, and personal interests fall by the wayside.

A competitive culture that glorifies over-work makes it hard to even admit that you might want or need to work less, that you have valuable hobbies, and that sometimes family, friends, and “me time” should come first. As a coach, I’m interested in you as a whole person. Again, your “success” is only measured by the things you find important and meaningful. Therefore, a coach can help you figure out how to achieve balance between all the aspects of your life that matter, in whatever way looks and feels right to you and you only.

Lower legs wearing blue jeans and brown boots in a tie-died hammock.
Photo by Nicole Harrington on Unsplash

3. Defining Your Priorities

Academic life comes with a predetermined list of milestones and a pretty typical set of career goals. Again, it’s a hierarchy. It can seem like there’s no room or even need to figure out what your own career objectives might be. Someone’s already set them for you!

The problem is that following this path is neither easy nor the right route for everyone. But what are the alternatives? And how can you even start to figure out what you want when everyone is busy waving you along the same old road?

Coaching is designed to point you in a direction that aligns with your values, skills, and passions. When you clarify your priorities, for instance, you start to define your own milestones and goals. Amazingly, these are much more meaningful – and often more achievable – than the ones someone else has laid out. I don’t pretend that goals like tenure or publications can be completely redefined; however, there is tremendous value in figuring out exactly why this path matters to you and what you’re willing to do to travel it.

4. Organizing Your Time

How often do you look at your to do list and think, “There’s just not enough time!”? How often do you feel like you either worked flat out, or wasted half the day? Time is a slippery thing. We feel we don’t have enough of it, or we don’t know how to make the best use of it. Not surprisingly, time management issues are a huge source of frustration and anxiety.

A career coach works with you to first, get honest about how much time you have and second, figure out what kind of work you can expect to do in that time. From that point, your coach will help you design a personal, flexible system for scheduling your time and making better use of it. Importantly, this isn’t all about making you a super-productive academic machine! It’s about helping you find time for what matters most to you and doing it sustainably.

5. Increasing Productivity

I kind of hate using the term “productivity” at all because I don’t like to buy into the idea that we should all be producing more work, all the time. However, most academics will find themselves worrying about productivity at various points. But it can be a hard thing to talk about, even with friendly colleagues, because it’s really easy to fall into the trap of comparison. Then someone leaves the conversation feeling deflated, anxious, or inadequate.

As a coach, I don’t define your productivity by outside standards or norms. Rather, I’m there to help you figure out what a healthy, happy, and sustainable level of productivity looks like for you. I can help you reconnect to what motivates you and gets you “unstuck” if you’re feeling a slump in productivity. I can work with you to build great habits and routines that will keep you on track. Most importantly, a coach helps you define the most critical and meaningful areas of work to focus your valuable energies on.


Working with an academic career coach is a great way to inject new life into your work. You don’t have to be struggling or depressed to reach out to a coach. Coaches are there to support anyone who’s ready to make changes – however big or small they might be.

If you’d like to learn more, contact me anytime.

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