Socially acceptable snark

Dear Snark: How can I make my snarkiness work for my path to tenure? 

Good God, I’m still on the tenure track myself.  I’m probably not the best person to ask. But hey, you’re asking for advice from a complete stranger in an unknown social science discipline, so you get what you pay for.

The first year on the tenure track is both fun and frightening.  If you in a good situation, your colleagues are protecting you from too much committee work, you are designing new courses (always fun!), and publishing the last bits of your dissertation.  You are also getting a lay of the land in your new institution. Who are the colleagues you can trust?  Who is going to come through to support your research? Where’s the best lunch for the money on campus?

If you are naturally snarky, don’t change your personality to get tenure. But you do have to think about making your snark productive, rather than destructive, to your career.

You don’t need to hide your snarkiness, but you may have to redirect it.  Snarkiness directed at decadent American consumerism and political convention pageantry may be well-received (but test the water first). Snarkiness directed at your colleagues, the dean, or, God forbid, your students will not be.

It may seem ironic that I, of all people, am advocating not being snarky to your students (about your students is a different matter). That doesn’t mean you can’t be snarky in front of your students, but they shouldn’t feel they are under direct attack.

This serves two purposes — one, it will make you a better prof. If that’s not your goal, what the hell are you doing in academia? Two, it will lead to better student evaluations (or at least, less bad ones).  You need those to be good — or at least acceptable — to make tenure. So as much as your students may drive you nuts sometimes, focus on the good rather than the irritating.


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