Stocks and bonds, Writing and outreach

I had an idea.  Follow me, here:

For academic careers, writing is like investing in stocks.  Outreach and translational research are like investing in bonds.

Stocks and writing:  Get lots while you’re young.  You need to write prolifically enough to get tenure, and gain the national or international reputation you need for those outside letters.  Spread your name, become known in your field.  Start early.  Because the return is uncertain, put a lot of writing out there in the world (and buy stocks).  Stocks are a good investment when you have a long timeline until retirement; you have time to weather the ups-and-downs of the market and can have a higher tolerance for risk, in exchange for possibly higher returns.

Bonds and outreach/translation:  These are more effective when you’re older.  When you’re more experienced in your field, you have more experience and a reputation that you can leverage for influence.  Research-wise, you’ve got a better idea of what works and what’s worth developing further, as well as potential pitfalls and objections.  You also know people who can help spread your ideas.  You may have more time to devote to making the world a better place.  When you’re closer to retirement, you also want the safety and security of bonds: potentially lower return, but steady.

In financial investing, as in an academic career, you’ll need a balance and variety throughout your life.  You might want to be doing both of these things (and more!) at all times, but in varying ratios.  Diversify and rebalance your portfolio and life.

This idea: off the wall, or right on target?  Tell me, Grumpeteers.

3 Responses to “Stocks and bonds, Writing and outreach”

  1. Miser Mom Says:

    I don’t know exactly how this fits into your metaphor, but here’s another reason why outreach is so much more effective later in your career. When I got tenure, an older prof told me that when she got tenure, she didn’t feel any different, but other people looked at her differently. What you describe with “experience and reputation” definitely plays a role in having more influence, but so does the act of sustained breathing.

    For me, this has also increased the sense of responsibility I feel to speak up, especially on behalf of people who for whatever reason (race, gender, unusual family situations, junior status) don’t have the same perceived authority that I do. A small suggestion from me will carry as much weight as an impassioned plea from others.

    . . . on the other hand . . . Some of the service that I did early on in my professional career was what got me connected with mathematicians around the country, which has definitely made it easier for me to switch my research field after I got tenure. There were two little “service” articles I wrote very early one (one in grad school on applying for jobs, one in my first year at my current institution on grading writing) that have had a big impact on my entire career, including being part of the reason I was invited to give a named lecture at the big math meetings this summer.

    (So don’t go all stocks/research early on???)

  2. chacha1 Says:

    seems like a very solid analogy, to me :-)

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