For the last two years during the pandemic, we have had a monthly gathering called, “Starting a Career in Unusual Times” recognizing that taking on a new position at any time can be a bit overwhelming even if exciting; during a pandemic, both emotions could be heightened, and we wanted to be sure that new members of the MSU community began to find some ways of connecting and making sense of what it means to be here. Small steps, but a start.

Career exploration and career-building are often foci during the seasons of “on-boarding”, and yet in many academic settings, the emphasis is on meeting the next benchmark on the ladder. Yet, if we have learned nothing else in the last few years, it has been made clear that ladders are no longer useful metaphors when thinking about how to construct a fulfilling career in the academy. Life takes bends and turns. Opportunities arise seemingly out of the blue and plans we had carefully laid get disrupted by events beyond our control. Even under more typical times, if one looks carefully beyond the bullet points on CVs and resumes, the stories and decisions behind these items tell a much deeper and more complex narrative. They suggest times of renewal such as a sabbatical or Fulbright Fellowship that may have led to a new direction in one’s research and scholarship; they represent a renewed commitment to teaching spawned by participation in a learning community or attending a specific workshop with those with similar passions for instructional innovation; they reflect assuming the chair of a specific committee or task force that stimulated a desire to assume more formal leadership responsibilities than ever planned; they signify the reality that the life of faculty and academic staff is not best represented by a straight line or a ladder where one rung leads logically to the next. Rather, academic life – planned or less so – is full of twists and turns that make each path unique even if situated within the broad parameters of a given institutional setting.

It is a recognition of the diversity of ways we think about our respective career paths and intentions that lead to the plethora of opportunities for engagement one finds across campus and that you often see coming across your email transom. It is also an underlying principle in goals stated in the MSU 2030 Strategic Plan as well as the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Strategic Plan that both suggest we need to continue investing in leadership and career development opportunities for staff and faculty that allow individuals to thrive, that contribute to a culture of care, respect and inclusion, and that help make MSU a workplace of choice to initially join and then, to stay. For each of us, this may mean dabbling for a moment outside our comfort zone in conversations offered by the Office of Institutional Diversity Initiatives, engaging in one of the many Fellows programs available to faculty and academic staff through OFASD or Human Resources, finding community within the Diversity Research Network or the Office of Outreach and Engagement Write-Ins, or starting a group for those with a specific pedagogical bent on #iTeach. Regardless of the means by which we get there, navigating through these unusual times should not preclude us from considering “what next?” and “what would be energizing to me” related to my career and seeking ways to nourish those thoughts and potential aspirations.

We invite you to watch for the announcements forthcoming about many 2022-23 small group opportunities beginning to be distributed by OFASD and other campus units. If you have questions, want to talk about an opportunity, or have ideas about things you’d love to see happening at MSU that would enhance your ability to craft a fulfilling career here, please share these with us!