Everyday successes are important, too

Academics’ tendency to feel they have not ‘done enough’ needs to be tempered by an appreciation of colleagues’ achievements

February 5, 2015

“With every anniversary of my PhD graduation I have a few brief hours of disbelief which are normally accompanied by a sense of disappointment in myself for not having Achieved More,” writes Rachel Moss on her Meny Snoweballes blog.

The lecturer in late medieval history at the University of Oxford has already published a book, Fatherhood and its Representations in Middle English Texts, but she is concerned about her lack of journal output.

Her 90,000-word book counted as just two items for last year’s research excellence framework, but rather than engaging in the politics of that system, Dr Moss questions a scholarly culture that prioritises articles over full-length books.

Besides believing that books can take readers on a “deeper and stranger journey” and that articles often leave her “wanting more”, Dr Moss explains that even as she moves towards a “plumper” CV with more articles, anxiety still prevails.

She might have taught lots, worked abroad and spoken at a dozen conferences, but she still worries that she has not “done enough”. This work hard, work harder philosophy makes a “virtue out of being run ragged”.

Dr Moss says that “academic culture normalises success and highlights failure”, as it becomes ordinary to be “self-deprecating”.

Academics speak about how busy they are and how much they have to do, but they rarely mention any satisfaction with their life and work, she says.

As an alternative to the prevailing sentiment, Dr Moss encourages academics to “shore up these moments of happiness and share one another’s achievements” – from day by day successes to book launches.

Sending late night work-related emails gives colleagues the “tacit message” that working at midnight is normal or even “desirable”.

Academics should take a moment to reflect upon the thrills of their job, because, as Dr Moss says, it “is full of joys”, both “incidental” and “profound”.

She notes that the physical and mental effects of this culture are well documented, yet academics still fail to take account of their colleagues’ everyday successes.

Her reflections upon life as an early career academic (a title she says she will soon need to shed) are on the whole quite positive, however.

Although the journey to becoming an academic (which Dr Moss notes still continues) has at times been a “painful sloughing”, at others it has been “so subtle and easy that I haven’t noticed until much later that it’s happened”.

Dr Moss says she is “blessed” in the progress of her career thus far, having spent just one year in the “wilderness” before taking a postdoctoral position in Paris. After that, she filled in for a lecturer at Oxford for three years and has now been granted a fellowship to work on her own long-term research project.

She concludes: “I don’t know what kind of academic I will be in five years, when it’s time to think what I have done in a decade post-PhD: but I’m looking forward to finding out.”

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to chris.parr@tesglobal.com

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