Good morning future tourism leaders,
I am writing this letter on a drizzly morning in Hobart, Tasmania. I have just dropped the kids at school and I am doing what I like to do most mornings – write and ignore the constant stream of emails, messages, notifications and tasks that never stop giving.
The purpose of my letter is to give you a few tips on what I have learnt through my career so far. During my time in academia, I have learnt so much and I am also seeing a lot of change. The ideas that I present in this letter are based upon these things and I am hopeful that they may help you navigate issues as you move through your career.
Do what feels right and keeps your passion for tourism burning. University priorities and metrics change all the time. Sometimes the strategic priorities of institutions will be focussed on attracting industry money. At other times they will be focussed on attracting competitively funded grants. Or it may be that high ranked journals, or the number of papers you write, may be the strategic focus of your university. During my career, at one time or the other, each one of these foci have been a priority at one time or another at the universities that I have worked at.
Because of this constant cycle of change in strategic priorities, there is risk that if you put all your eggs in one basket and follow the trends, you will leave yourself exposed when the priorities shift. I much prefer to keep one eye on current metrics but at the same time, do what “feels right’– if a treasured colleague of mine asks to write a book chapter for their book, then I will, regardless of what my university wants, because I will be supporting them and because it might be something that I enjoy. Following your gut feel and your passion keeps your research alive and exciting. I believe that balancing passion projects alongside the requirements of your university will mean you the quality of your work will be far better.
Be brave and honest about what you can – and can’t – do. As many of my trusted colleagues will know, I am a creative researcher who loves big ideas, but when it comes to forms and fine details, I am hopeless! I am always honest with my colleagues about this, because I believe that being upfront about our capabilities allows us to a) work to our strengths and b) build teams where the strengths of the members compliment each other. Honesty and trust, in my opinion, are very important in academia as we often work in teams where a cohesive approach is essential for success. Don’t bluff your way through; this will always get you unstuck. Being honest makes you human and relatable and a far better colleague in the long run.
Allow yourself to join the ride down the caring slippery-slide. Many women have caring responsibilities- be it our kids, pets, family members or parents. I like to think of this responsibility as being like a big long slippery slide in a park. When you are trying to balance a demanding career and caring responsibilities, there are often times when you have to make a choice – will I hold on to the hand rails and resist going down the slippery-slide and stay at work? Or shall I let go of the handrails on the slippery-slide and let myself go? On some occasions work demands that I resist and stay at work to get tasks done. But on other occasions my children need me. They may need me to pick them up from school, rather than take the bus. They may miss their mother after I have been on a work trip. Or I may just have a feeling that I need to be with them. It is on these occasions that it is important to let go of the handrails and slide down that slide. Don’t ever feel guilty about doing this. So long as you are getting your work done and you are meeting the expectations of your boss, then it is OK to let yourself go and enjoy the slippery-slide ride. Caring is an activity that will stay with you forever and the act of caring well for someone is an honour and one that you will not regret. Missing out because of work on the other hand, is something you will regret. Perspective is always important.
Hobbies outside of work. Three mornings a week, I swim or do some form of exercise. I also love my garden, a good dose of retail therapy, skiing and hiking. These hobbies refresh my brain and give me a break from work. Having a hobby outside the demands of academia is important because it is a career that can be all consuming. Allow yourself this time- it refreshes your body and your brain.
Fight prejudice via peaceful yet firm resistance. Over the past twenty years, I have seen some heart-warming and positive changes occur within the tourism academy. The days of all male leadership are becoming fewer and the patriarchy is weakening. However, we still see the existence of all male conference panels (‘manels’) and I still work in an organisation where male leaders outnumber women. This makes me white with rage! However, for the most part I try to contain the rage and fight the fire with a certain form of firm diplomacy. The reason I do this is because: a) I do not like conflict; and b) I find that firm and quiet pressure from the sidelines can be very effective. Anger from one person often incites anger from the other. I have found that quiet, yet firm and honest discussions can be way more effective in creating change. Having said this, there are times where rage is warranted. Pick your battles – and your ammunition- carefully.
If you are not working well, don’t stick around. When I was a teenager, my father taught me that if I was not doing my homework at 100% then I should stop, have a break and then restart later. This is a mantra that I have carried through into my work life and is now and engrained habit. I don’t watch Netflix at work, I don’t do lots of social media at work, nor do I have notifications on my email enabled.
As a mother of two kids, I need to use my time very wisely and while I do try to stop every day for coffee and lunch, I try to work efficiently and at 100% when I am at my desk. If I am not, I go for a walk around the campus, go pick up the kids, or head home. Life is too short and too busy to muck around at work; I would much rather muck around somewhere more fun- in the garden, on the bushwalking tracks, in the ocean or with my family. Efficient work habits make work easier, more productive, and far more satisfying in the long run.
Give to others. Academia can be a very selfish world. We are judged by our output, our records, our research funding, and our performance as teachers and researchers. We must constantly improve and be seen to be at the front of our respective packs if we want to get promoted. As a result, academia is a fertile breeding ground for narcissism and selfish behaviour. My advice is don’t fall into the trap of always thinking about promotion, self-gain and how you can do better. Think about your peers. Help them. Give back. Do projects that help your industry even if there are few material returns for you. One of the most enjoyable things I have done in my career is organise Iso-CHATS alongside my colleague Associate Professor Tamara Young. We created this seminar series during the COVID-19 pandemic to help connect academics who were stressed, missing connection and often enduring long periods of isolation. There was nothing in this for us – we got no money, no support and no help when we first began. But we did it because we wanted to help and we wanted to give. We have been rewarded with new connections, new friends, and a strong sense of camaraderie. Giving and goodness pays off and is recognised and rewarded, and is ultimately what makes our work worthwhile.
Have a good laugh. My final piece of advice is that life is too short to be 100% serious. Make friends, take time to socialise and have a good laugh at work, at conferences and at workshops. Tourism researchers are generally highly social individuals. Surround yourselves with good people- these will be your support system as you move through your career. And laugh like there is no tomorrow!
Thank you for listening. I do hope you gain some insights from this letter,
University of Tasmania, Australia