“You will rise to a greater power.
We will win ourselves a home.
You’ll get the power and the glory
For ever and ever and ever”
(Jesus Christ Superstar)
Every Wednesday, after teaching and before ballet class, I sit in my office and read some of the articles I have on my desk (physical or virtual). I pick one I like particularly, and I tell the author via email that I think they did a great job. Usually they are articles from my area of study, but not necessarily very closely connected with what I do. I pick authors who are not my close friends (because all my academic friends are very smart, but I have occasions to tell them so face-to-face). I also put it on Twitter with the hashtag #NiceAcademicWednesday so other people can read it, too.
Why do I do that?
For two main reasons.
The first reason is that we need more niceness in academia. As if never-ending underpaid Ph.D. programs, exploitive adjunct positions and a terrible job market weren’t enough, many academics are not nice. I have friends that say what you do is not what you are, and I agree, until I spend six months working on an article I really believe expresses all my theoretical ideas and it gets miserably rejected by conferences and peer-review journals. We all had the infamous Reviewer number 2 telling us that the work is cowshit because it doesn’t quote their last book, and the notorious “more of a comment than a question” that destroys our conference presentation. I’m not talking about constructive criticism, but that “let’s-destroy-others-so-I-can-feel-powerful” attitude that some people confuse with normal academic interactions. If it never happened to you, wow, I’m jealous. But I suspect it did, especially if you are young/female/non-white/non-English-native-speaker/LGBTQ+/disabled/early-career.
What can we do to make all this better? I try to call out colleagues when I notice an abusive behavior, but some people have too big of an ego to like someone else’s voice more than their own. And, of course, being very low on the academic food chain, normally nobody listens to me. So, I decided to start telling people they’re good when they deserve it. The idea came to my mind when I told a young scholar I liked her presentation at a conference. She was so surprised and happy, because that never happened to her. How come people never told her that she’s good? It’s most probably because of lack of niceness in academia. Maybe complimenting people doesn’t fix all world problems, but can improve someone’s day. I have a secret file (which I guess is not a secret anymore, now) where I keep screenshots of all positive evaluations I had, including criticism that makes me feel my work has potential, and sometimes I read them. This is what really motivates me to write and do research: the idea that some nice people like my work, not the fear that some scholars with ego addiction will find the right words to feed my impostor syndrome. So, #NiceAcademicWednesday is a way to do to others what I want others to do to me.
The second reason is that I believe I don’t read enough. When I was a student I read plenty of books and articles for my classes, but after finishing my Ph.D. I almost never have time to read literature. Sure, I look for sources for literature reviews when I write articles, but I rarely read what is not strictly necessary. So I gave myself a rule: I will set aside some hours every week to read. It’s the moment where I plunge into the pile of “I’ll read it when I have time” and “thanks for letting me know, I’ll definitely read your work” and “this Twitter contact shared an article they published, I must read it.” What did I discover after doing this weekly? Well, reading is very fun and relaxing, and this is true for academic literature too. Reading scholarly works for pleasure without any pressing deadline can feel like reading a novel (ok, now you know about my secret ego-boosting file AND you know I’m a nerd). In addition, it gives you a lot of new good ideas. Sometimes, while reading an article that I would have never expected to use in my work, I just find the perfect quote for my article in progress. Other times it gives me a perspective that I ignored because I was too deep into the swamp of my own field. Furthermore, it gives me the occasion to know many smart authors for the #NiceAcademicWednesday.
I shared this because I want to show the little part I do to make academia a little nicer. I don’t expect to be praised or followed, I only want people to stop and think about how can be more supportive, present, and nice for their colleagues. I want to raise my voice not to criticize, but to support. I want to continue doing #NiceAcademicWednesday because I hope to make others feel better. For sure, it makes me feel a lot nicer.
*The Jesus Christ Superstar references are to wish everybody who celebrates it a very nice Easter*