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How to thrive in academia as an extrovert

Many extroverts wonder if academia is a fitting work environment for them. Extroverts have the ability to thrive in academia while remaining true to their natural tendencies. Discover more about the benefits and challenges of being an extrovert in academia, and explore practical strategies to excel in this field while embracing your extroverted nature.


Is a research career viable for extroverts?

Extroverts are individuals who thrive in social settings, enjoying the company of others and engaging in public speaking. They are sociable, comfortable working in groups, and adept at communicating with a diverse range of people.

However, there exists a prejudice that most scientists are introverted, reclusive, and avoid social gatherings due to their perceived awkwardness in social interactions. This stereotype is often reinforced by portrayals of academics in movies, depicting them as solitary figures spending long hours alone in libraries. In reality, this stereotype is far from accurate.

Contrary to popular belief, there are plenty of extroverted individuals in the scientific community. Aligned with the prevalent imposter syndrome in academia, many individuals harbor concerns that their inherent character traits are not conducive to pursuing an academic career.

Introverts worry about their introversion being a disadvantage, while extroverts may feel concerned about fitting into an environment that seemingly values introverted qualities. In truth, both personality types have a place in academia, and success can be achieved by leveraging one’s strengths.

One unique aspect of academic careers or research-based professions is that they provide some flexibility in terms of defining one’s work and managing time. Unlike jobs with rigidly defined tasks and activities, these careers allow individuals to take charge of their work to a certain extent.

Furthermore, academic profiles encompass a wide range of activities, including publishing, teaching, public speaking, networking, applying for funding, and taking on leadership roles. Different individuals will find different aspects challenging, and both extroverts and introverts can discover activities that suit them well. It is a solid foundation upon which to build, addressing and improving upon the areas that present challenges.

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Advantages of extroverts in academia

Plenty of academic work is done collaboratively

While solitary work does exist in academia, it is no longer the norm. Instead, due to high expectations, a significant amount of work is accomplished through collaboration.

This means that individuals work closely together. They may collaborate with direct colleagues in a department or laboratory, as well as engage in collaborative research projects, funding applications, and co-authored publications involving academics from different universities.

Collaborative work aligns well with the preferences of extroverts, providing plenty of opportunities for them to thrive in group settings rather than working in complete isolation.

Networking plays a crucial role in academic career success

The assumption that academia operates as a meritocracy is often misleading since the reality is quite different. Instead, having strong connections plays a significant role in achieving success in an academic career.

Many universities consider an individual’s connections and networks as crucial factors during the application process. Building such connections serves as a starting point for prestigious collaborative projects, elevating one’s profile as an academic. Additionally, when it comes to job applications, having a good reputation and established connections within an institution can greatly enhance one’s prospects.

As an extrovert, networking may come more naturally to you, offering a valuable advantage when navigating academia and establishing yourself as a researcher.

Public speaking is a key skill in academia

The significance of possessing confident public speaking abilities in academia cannot be overstated.

Public speaking is an important skill in academia because it affects many facets of academic work, including conference presentations, research dissemination and teaching. The extent to which public speaking is mastered likely affects academic career prospects.

For extroverts, this implies that they may enjoy an inherent advantage compared to introverts who may experience feelings of insecurity and nervousness when speaking in public. Consider the confidence required not only in public speaking but also in social interactions, assertiveness, and expressing oneself effectively in group settings.

Feeling at ease in the presence of students makes academic work more enjoyable

Most academic positions involve a teaching component, with teaching undergraduate and graduate courses being a central activity for many roles. Within this context, student groups can be quite large, necessitating extensive communication and social interaction.

This encompasses delivering lectures in spacious lecture halls, conducting seminars in smaller groups, engaging in discussions, and adeptly adapting to various situations on the spot. It also entails having a keen understanding of individual students’ needs and communication styles, particularly during thesis supervision.

These tasks are often more manageable for extroverts, who generally possess a strong self-assurance and feel at ease in their own skin.

Public engagement and research dissemination is increasingly prioritized

In academia, there is a growing emphasis on moving beyond theoretical advancements and placing greater importance on making a tangible impact on society. Public engagement involves actively connecting with and interacting with diverse groups of people.

Developing strong networks with individuals and organizations outside of academia also aids in the dissemination of research. For extroverts, their comfort and confidence in communicating with people from various social settings enable them to effectively share their research findings.

Challenges of extroverts in academia

Academic work often involves little supervision

Some extroverts have a preference for making decisions within a group setting and engaging in regular idea exchange. However, academia encompasses a diverse range of variations regarding the amount and intensity of feedback and supervision provided.

For example, certain PhD students may have infrequent meetings with their supervisors, occurring only once every few months, and are predominantly tasked with independent work.

Consequently, if making decisions individually is not something you enjoy, this aspect could pose challenges in academia, particularly for extroverts.

Academic work often entails a substantial amount of focused work performed behind a laptop

While academia encompasses a range of activities, such as communication, discussion, and group work, a significant portion of an academic’s workload is dedicated to working diligently behind a laptop.

Academic work necessitates writing, even in co-authored publications, which often entails individuals sitting down to write independently for a considerable amount of time. Additionally, administrative tasks and activities like grading exams are also part of the responsibilities.

Therefore, it is crucial for extroverts to recognize that while they can exert influence over their activities to a certain extent in academia, there are certain non-negotiable aspects that are challenging to avoid.

There is a chance that your academic colleagues may be introverts

As in any workplace, it is possible to encounter introverted colleagues within an academic setting. Therefore, if you have the opportunity, try to gain an understanding of how a department or laboratory functions and get a sense of the atmosphere and personalities within your group.

In cases where most of your academic colleagues happen to be introverted, they may exhibit less interest in collaboration and, for example, prefer to work remotely. This situation can leave some extroverts feeling isolated within their immediate work environment.

There are strategies to improve this situation by actively building relationships, although it can present challenges for extroverts to navigate. Nonetheless, it’s worth noting that such dynamics can occur in any other workplace as well.

High competition in academia can reduce people’s effort and willingness to collaborate

Unfortunately, academia is frequently characterized by a highly competitive environment that doesn’t always bring out the best in individuals. At Master Academia, we strongly advocate for collaboration over competition, but it is important to acknowledge that not everyone shares this viewpoint.

For sociable extroverts who thrive on collaboration, it can be disheartening to experience situations where it seems that others are primarily focused on their own interests and advancing individually, rather than fostering a collective spirit and supporting each other’s success.

Deep conversations and thoughts

Some extroverts may encounter challenges in academia as their natural inclination is to act before they think. In academic settings, deep contemplation and thoughtful discussions are highly valued. While extroverts have the advantage of being able to confidently share their thoughts and speak up, there is a potential downside if they speak too quickly without proper consideration.

It is important to be mindful that speaking without adequate thought can be intimidating to others and may result in dominating conversations without making the most valuable contributions. Extroverts should strive to strike a balance, ensuring their contributions are well-thought-out and meaningful, thus maximizing their impact in academic discussions.

Strategies for extroverts to thrive in academia

Considering the advantages and potential challenges that extroverts may face in academia, there are concrete strategies that can help them thrive:

  1. Embrace your extroversion as a strength: Recognize and embrace who you are as an extrovert. Avoid trying to be someone you’re not and instead find your own path in academia. Being aware of potential challenges allows you to identify your weaknesses and actively work on improving them. Remember that academia is a space for both extroverts and introverts, so celebrate your unique qualities.
  2. Take control of your career: Actively shape your daily activities and have the confidence to make changes when needed. While no job is perfect, experiment and seek out new ways of working and opportunities until you find a balance where the majority of activities align with your preferences.
  3. Leverage your extroverted nature for networking: Capitalize on your strength as an extrovert by utilizing your socializing, communication, and networking skills. Engage in research networks, participate in conferences, and actively connect with individuals in local and international settings.
  4. Plan your time to include energizing activities: Develop self-awareness and structure your schedule to include regular activities that energize you. If you know there will be a month of solitary writing to complete a publication, plan ahead by scheduling lunch meetings with colleagues or friends, working in a cafe instead of a quiet library, or incorporating other social activities that recharge you.
  5. Build a diverse network of collaborators: If suitable collaborators are scarce within your department or lab, expand your search. Explore interdisciplinary collaborations with other departments or faculties within your university, or seek out scientists from other universities who are great to work with. By broadening your network, you can incorporate more collaborative work into your academic pursuits.
  6. Take on leadership roles that align with your strengths as an extrovert: Engage in research networks, contribute to setting up seminars, or organize conferences. By actively participating in leadership roles, you can showcase your extroverted skills, contribute to the academic community, and enhance your CV.

By implementing these strategies, extroverts can navigate academia more effectively and make the most of their unique strengths and qualities.

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