It’s Time for Academic Re-Entry – Three Post-Pandemic Career Tips for Women

By Vicki L. Baker, PhD

Many of us are still reeling from the pandemic that has consumed our work and lives for nearly 18 months. We are now also looking ahead to an academic year that looks more like what we are used to, but still so many unknowns loom as we begin planning for 2021-2022. 

If you were anything like me this past year, you will have found yourself trying to stand on solid ground, managing professional responsibilities while supporting virtual learning for two elementary aged children. It was certainly chaotic but some important lessons surfaced during the strangest of academic years that will carry into my professional and personal planning in the coming months and beyond. 

I want to share with you three key lessons I have taken from the pandemic period that might help to inform your own planning.

Lesson 1 – Keep it simple

This approach should be applied across the board as you engage in course preparation, scholarly pursuits, and/or professional advancement. As the pandemic was rearing its ugly head, I was forced to take a hard look at my schedule including commitments, collaborations and personal responsibilities. I literally worked through each task and asked myself: How is this helping me advance my goals? Is this necessary? Moreover, is this something I am passionate about? If I was unclear or answered no to two out of three of these questions, I either immediately eliminated the engagement from my ‘to do’ list or formulated an exit strategy to transition off the engagement. A positive takeaway for me from the pandemic was a reprioritisation of time, commitments and responsibilities and I plan to carry that forward as good life and professional practice from this point on. 

Lesson 2 – Establish goals and revisit them regularly

If you have not read the book Write it Down, Make it Happen: Knowing What you Want and Getting It by Henriette Anne Klauser, do yourself a favour and get it. It’s a quick, easy read that focuses on the importance of setting goals, writing them down and returning to them often. Putting pen to paper is a powerful act that holds you accountable and honours your targets and passions. Set time aside to assess and clarify your goals with some regularity (I literally schedule two hours on my calendar once a month to revisit my goals and determine if I am headed in the right direction). Ask yourself, are these goals helping me advance in the ways that I hope or need? If not, what is getting in my way? If yes, what actions or behaviours am I engaged in that are working towards achieving those goals? The clear message here is that to get to where you want to be, you need to be clear (and honest) about where you currently are. 

Lesson 3 – Community is important

Although I still taught and worked in person throughout the pandemic, I know that was not the case for many of my colleagues across the academy. Despite being face-to-face, the level of community and human connection I felt was not what it was prior to the pandemic and I realised how much I had taken that for granted. I am eager to re-establish those human connections and my community because it is vitally important to my success and my soul. As part of this rebuilding, I have engaged in some serious self-assessment. I asked myself: Are these the right individuals who will honour my re-envisioned priorities and help me advance my goals? Do I need to broaden my mentoring network based on how I have reallocated my work and personal activities? Am I serving as a strong ally or co-conspirator for others as they seek to advance?  

My focus for the upcoming year is grounded in these three very important lessons. This next academic year will certainly not be “business as usual” but we need to appreciate that while it will undoubtedly be frustrating, the experiences gained from working through a pandemic have provided us with an ideal opportunity to be much more deliberate and considered in terms of how, and in what ways, we choose to engage. 

Vicki L. Baker, PhD is Professor, Economics & Management at Albion College, Michigan, USA, and Co-Founder, Lead Mentor Develop (