THE Scholarly Web

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

December 22, 2011

"Back-stabbing assholes who take the credit for other people's work"; "prima donnas, bullies and not team players": these were just some of the unflattering descriptions of professors offered up by 12,000 lower-ranked academics surveyed for a recent UK study.

Yet while many of the responses to the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education study were negative, for others - in Canada at least - professors are a source of crucial support and guidance. In a guest post on the University of Venus blog, Deanna England, graduate studies officer at the University of Winnipeg, readily admits that she was all at sea when she started her career in the academy.

"I was absolutely terrified of making an idiot of myself," she writes. "I had graduated 10 years earlier with an honours degree in psychology, and had done very little of academic note since then."

She quickly discovered, however, that the senior faculty she came into contact with were willing to pass on their expertise.

"Faculty and administration understand that everyone comes from diverse educational backgrounds," she writes. "Now I am less shy about speaking to faculty, I take advantage of the myriad experts at my disposal."

The support is not purely focused on the specifics of her day-to-day work, either.

"I had an Economics faculty member come to my office the other day to ask some administrative questions...I impatiently answered her queries, and refused to let her leave until she explained the Occupy (Winnipeg) movement to me," she writes.

"After looking slightly taken aback, she very kindly explained why it wasn't hypocritical to consider donating to their cause - a concept I hadn't been able to wrap my head around until that moment."

Ms England also describes the beneficial results she has derived from linking up with senior academics via Facebook.

"A few weeks ago, one of them posted a link to a book review on hegemony, and I made a comment about how I would only read it if it explained the concept to me in more detail, as my rudimentary grasp of it was proving insufficient for my needs.

"A politics faculty member joined the commentary and said that I could stop by his office anytime and he'll go over it with me."

Such experiences seem a far cry from the Leadership Foundation study. While Ms England acknowledges that the university is a "hierarchical institution", she is adamant that she has been "consistently struck by the openness and collegiality of those I deal with".

"I so often hear other staff members talking about 'diva-like' members of faculty or administration, but I can't say I experience much of it," she writes. "It's easy to feel mistreated and patronized when you're lower down the ladder - but it's not always easy to not hold a grudge, or examine your own behaviour and how you may have provoked it yourself.

"When I have curiosity about the research that many faculty members are experts in, they are usually genuinely pleased to have someone take an interest in the area where they feel a profound investment and passion."

Send links to topical, insightful and quirky online comment by and about academics to john.elmes@tsleducation.com.

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