A while ago I wrote a post on ‘what my phd is‘ – as in, what subject or discipline it falls into. Around the same time I was also thinking about academic identities more broadly; about the type of academic one wishes to be. That was in part brought on by the sad and far too early passing of Gene Golovchinsky over the summer. There are some lovely tributes to Gene here, and I related to many of the experiences of other researchers (young and old), that Gene went out of his way to be generous with his time and views, he engaged with people, and was unassuming about it. He took time to go for a drink with me in July, and very generously (from a cold email) had a Skype conversation with me a few years earlier (and exchanged numerous tweets and emails); his influence can be seen on my work and is felt by me, for which I’m incredibly grateful.
I’ve been very fortunate in my academic career so far that I’ve met people like Gene. My supervisors (Jan Derry, Neil Mercer, Simon Buckingham Shum and Karen Littleton) are all incredibly generous and happy to engage. And beyond them, people have been happy to offer help, collaboration, advice, kind words and encouragement at every stage. In fact, this was also true during my undergraduate with both my peers and academics, and I’ve said a few times that the only reason I did so well was that some friends and I all read and critiqued each other’s work (something unis should encourage more of!)…the fact at least some of us find such things ‘fun’ helped.
For sure I’ve met people who I probably wouldn’t emulate (although certainly some of those I rather like too), but by and large I struggle to think of anyone who fits into what I think is a quite common view of academics: Selfish; perhaps insecure; aggressive; possessive; too busy to talk to underlings; arrogant, or whatever. That’s perhaps just a lucky break on my part, and perhaps there are disciplinary differences too…of course, it’s also the case that when appropriate I can trot our comforting tropes re: academic douchebaggery that I’ve experienced, but they really are in the minority.
Certainly I hope that my interactions with others – more senior and junior – are of the kind that I’ve experienced. And I suspect this is a common set of conflicting views (perhaps identities) for academics, the ‘academic kindness’ tumblr indicates a desire to share some of this other side of academia.
I try to take my acknowledgement sections fairly seriously. Partly this is a procrastination technique, but mostly it’s because I’m incredibly grateful for the support I’ve received, and I think it’s important that that’s acknowledged – so this post is a general acknowledgement to those who provide fantastic models of how to be both a brilliant researcher, and a brilliant person (I think I have Simon Buckingham Shum to thank for that expression combo). I often say (perhaps too often to potential employers) that I’ve been incredibly lucky and incredibly cheeky in my work so far. I stand by that as a claim (but still gimme-all-the-jobs-plz), but really a lot of that luck has been about other people’s generosity; seems to me to be a pretty good model of academia to work on.