Starting Your Career in Academic Psychology

By James K Luiselli EdD ABPP BCBA-D
August 18th, 2017

“Starting Your Career in Academic Psychology”

By Robert J. Sternberg

American Psychological Association

Washington, D.C., 2017

Book full of practical advice

Reviewed by James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D

Psychologist and author Robert J. Sternberg is the perfect person to write a book about starting a career in academic psychology. Currently a professor of human development, he has previously served as a university dean, provost and president. He is active as a researcher and student mentor, has published widely, and was past president of the American Psychological Association.

Sternberg wrote this book “for graduate students and postdocs who are just about to start careers as academic psychologists and also for academics who are just starting out in faculty positions.” His views and recommendations apply to adjunct and tenure-track professors-instructors, at small and large universities, and within psychology and related departments.

The book is arranged in five parts and 17 chapters covering the early steps of pursuing an academic career, teaching, research, service and professional advancement. I am unaware of any similar book or one that is so comprehensive and informative.

Each chapter features a central topic, followed by a series of suggested activities and respective tactics. For example, in the chapter titled “Getting Started Teaching Your Course,” Sternberg describes 44 strategies for constructing a syllabus, getting to know students, using technology, delivering lectures, organizing discussion groups, maintaining class decorum and similar classroom guidelines.

Beyond the area of teaching pragmatics, Sternberg offers considerable insight into dealing with departmental and university politics. High on his list of pertinent issues are preparing for tenure and promotion, resolving conflicts with students and colleagues and common mistakes that junior faculty make but can be avoided.

Matters of research scholarship, so critical in building an academic career, are also addressed with precision. Among a vast array of useful tips, Sternberg advises readers about initiating a research program, submitting grants, collaborating with students, setting up a lab, and writing for publication.

Throughout the book, Sternberg writes in simple prose that gets his points across without clutter or confusion. The tone is conversational, as if you were sitting in a room with him, exchanging ideas and listening to a very skilled communicator. A highlighter will come in handy as you work your way through each chapter!

Another attraction of the book is that Sternberg fills the pages with incidents and scenarios from his extensive academic history. In essence, the book is really a testament to his experiences, what he has learned from them and how this knowledge provides a path towards early-career academic psychology.

A previous reviewer of this book described it as a “survival manual” for starting and thriving in academia. I agree. It is a valuable resource that will serve as a one-of-a-kind guidebook for graduate students, post-graduate trainees and new faculty within departments of psychology and related disciplines as well.

I think that established faculty will also benefit from reading this book. There is so much practical guidance that even the most seasoned academic can extract something new and worthy of application with students, colleagues, chairpersons and administrators.

James K. Luiselli, Ed.D., ABPP, BCBA-D, is a clinical psychologist in private practice.


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