How Not to Suck at Being a Tough Scholar

Developing hard and thick skin is not a productive goal. The goal is to use the environment as energy, no matter how hostile and potentially toxic, to assist you in achieving your personal and professional goals that are consistent with your worldview. I prefer the translated quote from Lao Tzu, “water is the softest thing, it can penetrate mountains and earth. This shows clearly the principle of softness overcoming hardness.” Nothing is as tough as water.

researchtopractice

Graduate students, adjunct faculty, and tenure-track junior faculty are often unprepared for the world of academia. Not because they lack skills, accomplishments, motivation, organization, or discipline; but because they are not emotionally prepared for the rigours of academic life. There are petty jealousies, cutthroat competition, high school-like cliques, sexism, larger societal political pressures, harassment and bullying, apparently arbitrary decisions, funding cuts, racism, hazing-like activities, good ol’ boy networks, power struggles, and a host of factors irrelevant to research and teaching that serve as barriers to success in academia. These factors become more than issues of quality of work, but are soul sucking and personally devastating. Many young scholars give up on academic careers entirely rather than put themselves and their loved ones through an environment that can be hostile and take a personal toll. Many academics believe that a “thick skin” is required for successful academics. It not clear whether…

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