Hundreds of academics give advice to their younger selves

If only they knew then what they know now about meetings, work-life balance and the importance of being kind

July 30, 2018
Source: iStock

Academics from around the world have responded to a tweet asking them what they would say to their younger selves. 

The request attracted more than 900 comments. The sender, Nathan Hall, who is an associate professor of educational and counselling psychology at McGill University in Montreal, said that the post was inspired by previous tweets asking people to reflect on their youth or to recount embarrassing learning experiences from graduate school. 

“Over the past five years on academic Twitter, I've learned a lot about the difficult lived experiences of individuals across the academic spectrum and was curious as to what, if anything, people wish they would have known before they started,” he told Times Higher Education

Advice was given on everything from submitting a dissertation to how to handle university politics. 

Knowing how to set boundaries early was frequently mentioned. 

As was advice to “stay true to yourself”.  

Other comments discouraged anyone from even beginning an academic career in the first place. 

And some advised young academics to use their PhD to pursue a career outside academia.

Responses also recognised the abuse, harassment and discrimination that takes place in higher education.  

Very much connected to these comments was the overwhelming theme of self-care in the advice. 

Hall, who manages several accounts with large followings, said that he wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming response to the tweet from his personal account. “I am humbled by the remarkably candid, helpful, and courageous responses about various facets of academic life,” he said. 

Notably, though, a voice missing from the flood of advice is Hall’s own. 

“Part of my reason for asking the question is that I was honestly not sure what advice I would give to my grad student self,” he said adding that responses that underscored the importance of kindness and viewing academic employment not as “a calling” but “a job” particularly resonated with him.

But the comments that he most closely identified with pertained to mental health and self-care, he said. 

“Beyond all the specific advice I might give myself about post-doctoral work, research topics, job applications, or politics, at the top of my list would be to remind myself to make my mental health a priority and to seek support sooner,” he said.  

“I now realise the importance of being honest about these realities, understanding that I am not alone in these experiences, and that seeking mental health support is not as much a sign of weakness as it is a useful strategy for navigating academic life."

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