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Regrets? They’ve had a few…but with the frustrations have come joys and satisfaction, too. Here, six scholars reveal what they wish they had known at the beginning of their careers and offer some sage advice to would-be professors

As ever greater numbers of young scholars strain every sinew to establish a career in the academy, we thought it would be interesting to seek the perspectives of some senior academics who have already lived that dream. Was their lifetime of teaching and research everything they had hoped it would be? And what advice would they give their younger selves - or someone now entering the profession?

We hardly knew what to expect. Would we get tales of disappointment, missed opportunities and pointless feuds? Or has the academy offered our contributors lives full of stimulation and fun?

In the event, only one of our six contributors expresses regret that she didn’t leave the academy and do what she really wanted to. Another believes that academics belong - or, at least, belonged - to “one of the most privileged minorities on the planet”. A third recalls an “exciting quarter-century of academic warfare”, her only regret being that occasionally she had been led “to flatten someone who possibly didn’t deserve it”.

Several contributors offer different perspectives on the work-life balance. One found that his 24/7 job as the president of a US university was all consuming and now sees the wisdom of his children’s ways, “devoting more time to my grandchildren than I allowed myself to give to them”. Another regrets that the necessity of providing for a sick husband and four children forced her to take on “anything that paid”. But one contributor believes it is indeed possible for academics to “have it all” - although not necessarily at the same time.

Ask a group of academics for advice and you’ll always get contradictory responses. One of our contributors advises young scholars that “if you’re unexpectedly asked to lecture in Chile next week - go!” However, another takes a more cautious line: “Withdraw from the invited conference lecture in Chile and go to the job interview at Huddersfield.”

Perhaps only one suggestion ought to be engraved on tablets of stone: “Never turn down Times Higher Education when asked to write for them.”

[Read the letters: timeshighereducation]