10 Tips for Academics Who Value Their Lives

Sara Goldrick-Rab
2 min readOct 5, 2023


Here’s some hard-earned wisdom for my friends and colleagues trying to work in the academy — by which I mainly mean universities, especially research universities, but also anyone attempting to do research, teach, and serve as a full-time professor. And especially for those who have or want tenure…

(1) Make sure you have a signed contract that describes all parts of your job (not just the teaching), including compensation, performance expectations, and criteria for termination.

(2) Find an employment attorney, have them review that contract with you, and then keep their number handy. If you can, ask your union for a recommendation. You want someone who has worked with faculty before but not someone who is too close to your university — if you’re in a small town, find someone from another town! Call that attorney proactively if your job gets weird. Do not wait. Yes, it is worth the money.

(3) Keep copies of your research, writing, emails, etc. somewhere that isn’t on a university server.

(4) If a supervisor speaks to you about *anything* important, follow up & get it confirmed in writing.

(5) Never assume that tenure will protect you from your employer. Universities can and will invent ways that you are threatening their business to get around any academic freedom claims. They hate progress and impact — they are deeply insecure institutions often run by deeply insecure people.

(6) Have a backup plan. Maybe two. Precarity is now the hallmark of academe. Start that LLC and/or nonprofit. Give yourself degrees of freedom.

(7) Don’t listen to anyone who tells you there isn’t life outside the academy. They are lying.

(8) Your colleagues are not your friends. Your students are not your friends. Your dean is most definitely not your friend. Stop having informal relationships with people who universities can and will manipulate / leverage to take your job when it suits them.

(9) Securing funding and winning awards doesn’t protect your employment. If anything, it threatens it. Remember, deans, provosts, and presidents are rarely hired because they are actually good at management. Most are deeply insecure and want you beneath them.

(10) In summary, even if you are tenured you should act like an adjunct — someone who is at the institution for now, but knows it may not be for long. Never get comfortable. Never feel safe. Job security in American higher education is an illusion.

LAST THING: All of this applies whether or not your institution has a union — if it does by all means join it and seek that support, but still be sure to do all of this too.

Photo by Randy Jacob on Unsplash



Sara Goldrick-Rab

Author of Paying the Price, founder of the #RealCollege movement, the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, and Believe in Students