Book Review: The Coach’s Guide for Women Professors

The Coach’s Guide for Women Professors Who Want a Successful Career and a Well-Balanced Life
by Rena Seltzer

Book cover










Seltzer is a consultant and coach whose work is primarily with academics. I stumbled across her book somewhere recently and then had it sitting on my bedside table so I couldn’t ignore it as I am occasionally wont to do with “improving” books.

All told, it’s about a three hour read–so you’re not committing to a long text here. And Seltzer recommends tackling it by whichever chapter you need most right now, rather than reading start to finish, though she acknowledges that many people will and will want to read it that way. Her examples are drawn from her clients and she provides extensive references to further research in this area, which I appreciated.

What I found most powerful about the book were her “Into Action” sections, which summarize what has just been suggested into immediately usable ideas or activities. Some are questions, others are referrals, others are thought provoking.  The best chapter, for me, was the How to Have More Time. Seltzer points out some obvious things (one occasionally needs a clue-by-four, I’m certainly among them) such as the statement Everything Takes Time.  It was something I hadn’t really considered to the forefront–we say “oh that’ll just take five minutes” or “I can do that in an hour, it’s nothing.”  But it isn’t. It’s always more than five minutes and it’s frequently more than the hour we’ve allotted. And that’s still an hour that adds up. It’s rare that I can find an open hour of time on my work calendar and a spare hour at home certainly is few and far between.

Seltzer also point out areas where women are particularly challenged: perceived as not being a faculty member because we’re female; not listened to– where others are; expected to be more nurturing; assumed that we’ll take a higher level of service on.

There are some aspects of the book that don’t quite line up with librarian duties.  I’ve written before about being a faculty member and being a librarian and the challenge of being in a “service profession”  where I’m lumped in with other service professions and therefore not always given the same level of support as those other services might offer a “regular/real/normal” professor.  And I can’t imagine actually skipping department meetings, a time saver recommendation, without there being a lot of questions. Also, Seltzer isn’t worried about running a physical space, which is a primary concern for librarians, nor the same kind of advocacy of role of the library–trying to expand into more professor’s classes to teach, etc etc. That said, librarians aren’t her primary audience so it would be unreasonable to expect that to be fully addressed.

Seltzer spends a great deal of time talking about early or impending motherhood. This is a regular concern in academia.  However, I found her emphasis on it a little too exclusive. While a majority of women will become mothers at some point, not all of them in the tenure track are also dealing with newborns, which seemed to be Seltzer’s overarching expectation. Comparing it with my own current department, it felt a little tone deaf–of the four peers with children in my immediate department undergoing tenure now or over the past five years, all of them had children in high school or above.  The other four women didn’t/don’t have children. I can’t speak for anyone’s immediate child-bearing plans except my own, of course.  We’re an exception, I’m sure, but it struck me as another instance of being told that because I don’t have children, I shouldn’t be having any  problems in terms of finding time to write or produce scholarly work or extra labor or what have you and I found that particularly off-putting.

Seltzer does address varying cultural issues that arise and put other pressure on women, family who do not understand the workload, community norms that don’t align with academia, etc.  She also points out how community can serve as extra support, particularly for minorities who feel isolated in their work environment.

Overall, I found the book useful and a couple of coworkers, spotting the cover, have already asked to borrow it and I do think it’s worth the recommendation.