Taking the “uh-OH” out of CIO consulting in higher education


Thoughts on the freelance academic

black cat laying next to Katie Rose Guest Pryal's book "the freelance academic"

Now that I’m a month into my transition from higher ed to higher ed adjacent, I wanted to update folks on what I’ve accomplished. In my first month I visited my parents in way update Minnesota (there’s basically nothing north of them except Canada), got bronchitis, and finished reading Katie Rose Guest Pryal’s the freelance academic: transform your creative life and career. Since I’m pretty sure nobody wants to hear about my bronchitis, here are some thoughts after reading Dr. Pryal’s book.

the freelance academic is a series of essays that share Dr. Pryal’s experiences as a contingent faculty member in higher education and her metamorphosis into what she calls a freelance academic. Reading the essays requires, I think, equal parts tissue and torches. You’re going to tear up at some of the stories, turn a page, and then want to grab a torch to help burn the entire higher ed system down. If you’ve read any of Dr. Pryal’s other work, you’ll recognize the way her writing shares her internal struggles and successes but also gives you some great, real world tips to help you if you’re thinking about a similar transition. I’m not a faculty member, but I have worked in higher education administration for almost 25 years. My job as a CIO is certainly not as financially challenging as that of an contingent academic, but it has, to me anyway, felt almost as precarious. So while this book isn’t, strictly speaking, Written For Me, there are lots of great take aways (both emotional and practical) that apply to my decision to leave higher ed IT and move into consulting. I think anyone working in higher ed who’s thinking about shifting out will find value is this book. Just for a flavor of what I mean, here is Dr. Pryal’s freelance academic manifesto from the first part of the book.

  1. Get paid for your work.
  2. Live in a place you love with people you love.
  3. When you find yourself being lured back to your department for a temporary gig, remember: They’re never going to let you in the club.
  4. Stop applying for academic jobs.
  5. Remember that you are not alone.

It’s not too hard to see how this can apply to more than just academics. I’ve been working through variations on these things over the last month. How much should I volunteer to do work just because I’m not “doing anything” right now? How can my spouse and I get back to the Raleigh, NC area (where most of our friends and family are)? Would I be interested in consulting for my previous institution? What are the criteria I should use when applying for new CIO gigs (I’m not quite ready yet to just stop applying)? Who do I have I can talk to about everything? Dr. Pryal’s book has definitely helped with that process.

I generally measure how well I like a book by how often I put it down and how often I find myself absently staring at the pages (less is better on both counts). For this book I have to modify that a bit mostly because I found myself putting the book down at least once a chapter to grab my laptop and Do Something she mentions. For instance, I’m now a member of the Freelancers Union, I’ve been busy jotting down my super powers (I’m able to make very good situational assessments quickly without lots of data), and I’m starting to think about how to build a network of colleagues from my living room here in Hawaiʻi. So for this book putting it down was almost always a good sign. I also found I often stopped reading and just stared at the page, but perhaps not absently. Often a passage or chapter simply hit me right in the gut and forced me to just sit with it for a bit. And then read it again. When I started reading the book I had intended to bookmark a couple of really helpful pages, but after like the 10th post-it by page 15 I gave up. I could randomly open this book to almost anyway page and find something to inspire or challenge me.

Here’s my final thought. I’ve got maybe a half dozen books that have really changed the way I think about higher education and my place in it, and this is most definitely one of them. If anything I scribbled down here spoke to you, I’d encourage you to buy a copy of the freelance academic and find quiet day to sit with it.

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