A toxic effect of ‘flying solo’ for teaching staff

Are you one of these people who finds themselves saying at a dinner party “At least there is a lot of autonomy in what I do…” when you talk about your teaching??

Think again. Research suggests that working in isolation might actually be harmful for your job satisfaction and well-being, especially if you are an ‘early career’ academic.

There is a strong culture of ‘flying solo’ in academia. “I look after my unit, and you look after yours. We rarely talk, or try to coordinate what we do“. This way of working is in stark contrast with how most workplaces function, or, for that matter, what we are trying to prepare our students for.

‘Academic autonomy’ to teach what you think is best might, on the first glance, appear attractive (I do my part without having to check with others), however, this process is fragmented and may be harmful for instructors’ wellbeing, reports Fogg (2006) who suggests that working alone undermines academics’ job satisfaction and happiness.

people boxes heads

Fogg has a point: not only is it in human nature to seek meaningful connections with colleagues and feel a part of something larger, but ‘flying solo’ may also result in trying to ‘do it all’ = a recipe for a ‘burnout’ or resentment. For example, as a ‘well-meaning-instructor’, I may want to include communication training, employability perspectives, peer feedback, groupwork, intercultural, sustainability, indigenous, and other important perspectives in my course.

It is an impossible task and is likely to leave me feeling guilty or resentful with my institution that expects these areas to be taught to students.

The answer?

One answer is to work as a program team to map what is being covered in different units and to collaboratively identify the  gaps and duplication that need to be addressed, etc.

Not only will such a collaboration result in a higher quality program for students, but it may also make you feel more connected to your colleagues and give you a higher level of satisfaction, as reported by some other studies (e.g.Uchiyama & Radin, 2008).

Where to from here?

If your program is still a ‘collection of units’ rather than one coherent part, it may be time to start conversations in your Department of how your program could be improved.

Want to  know more? 

Read how other programs at Macquarie are approaching program-based design:

(almost) All you need to know about Program-Based design

Program-level design: 10 practical strategies for ‘keeping it real’

The dangers of a potluck dinner, and other metaphors for understanding program-based design

References:

Fogg, P. (2006, September 29). Young PhDs say collegiality matters more than salary. Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A1.

Uchiyama, K.P. & Radin, J.L. Innov High Educ (2009) 33: 271. doi:10.1007/s10755-008-9078-8

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