Proactive academia (4): #PositiveAcademia: Towards a kinder academic world

Last of eight posts on my Irish Academy of Management Distinguished Scholar Interview

In October 2022 I received the happy news that I was elected as the 2022 Irish Academy of Management Distinguished International Scholar. I received a beautiful glass sculpture and was interviewed by the amazing Alma McCarthy on the topic Towards a more inclusive and proactive academia. This post covers the #PositiveAcademia initiative that I started in 2022.

Being critical is our nature, but…

As academics we sometimes forget about the positive aspects of our career, which I have summarised in the video below. I don’t deny that there are a lot of things wrong in academia. I have seen them all. Obviously, we should do all we can to address power abuse, harassment, and bullying. None of these should be part of our academic culture. But these problems are hard to address by individuals and the negativity in academia stretches beyond this.

As academics we are trained to see problems and flaws everywhere. As a result, we sometimes focus too much on the negatives. Like any individual, academics tend to overestimate and embellish bad experiences and their lack of agency in them. Horror stories about nasty reviewers and paper rejections are so much more interesting to share than “my paper had such great reviewers, and I had a really easy ride”.

I am as guilty of this as anyone. Recently, I shared a story of a paper that was rejected after review for two journals and was then rejected in the fourth R&R for a third journal, mainly to illustrate that even senior academics don’t get a smooth ride. However, I also told the story about the editor of the next journal – Jasper Hotho at Organization Studies - who was so committed, professional and considerate that even my colleagues, whom I showed the editorial acceptance letter, had their spirits lifted.

#PositiveAcademia 2022: LinkedIn recommendations

I see the #PositiveAcademia initiative as touching upon both topics that were covered in the interview: inclusion and proactivity. Inclusion as it values all contributions in academia. Proactivity because it recognises that even small acts that every single academic can take can make a difference.

The idea really came to me in the Christmas break of 2021, in the depths of the second pandemic winter. I was looking for ways to cheer colleagues up on a regular basis. So I struck upon the idea of writing public recommendations on LinkedIn for colleagues, mentees, co-authors, and other academics that I admire.

So far, I have shared nearly 70 recommendations on LinkedIn and am planning to write many more.  I have even written a recommendation for the editor that rejected our paper in the 4th round as well as the one who subsequently accepted it for another journal. Little gestures like this can really make a big difference to academics in your network. Even if we all write just one recommendation for someone else, we can collectively make academia a much kinder place.

Write a nice email

If writing a LinkedIn recommendation is too public for you, just write someone a kind email occasionally. Send a congratulation email to an author whose work you enjoyed reading, even - or especially - if they are not someone you have met before. I have done that quite a few times, especially in COVID-19 times. Without fail these authors have written back to me saying how much they appreciated this.

Next time you receive a mass email informing you of someone who graduated or received a particular honour, don't just write another "congrats from me too" or "great job" to the whole mailing list. This clogs up everyone's mailboxes and mainly publicises you, showing off to all your colleagues how considerate you are. Even worse, it might just publicise your own achievements if you are someone who has one of these signatures that makes up 90% of their emails (See: How to promote your research achievements without being obnoxious?). Instead take 5 minutes to write the celebrant a personal email that's just for them.

Reading a particularly well-crafted email about a difficult topic? Send the writer a quick note saying you noticed how much work went into it and how much you like the result. This is very important for junior academics who might agonise about whether they struck the right tone. However, it is equally important for senior managers (e.g. Heads of Departments or Deans). Being in a senior position can be quite alienating and lonely. 

These are only a few suggestions. I am sure you can think of many others. We cannot change academic cultures overnight, but we can all play our part: one email or recommendation at a time...

#PositiveAcademia 2023

This interview was conducted in November 2022. Since then, I have continued to develop the #PositiveAcademia initiative. In January 2022, I shared daily LinkedIn recommendations, moving to weekly #PositiveAcademia postings every Friday.

I have kept up that practice in 2023 and created three different streams of contributions: resources supporting #PositiveAcademia, LinkedIn recommendations, and initiating discussions on LinkedIn around core #PositiveAcademia themes.

Positive Academia: the future

In addition to the need for inclusion and proactiveness, an important aspect of any new initiative is its sustainability. I talked about this in my work in Supporting Early Career Researchers. Unless you ensure sustainability, any initiative runs the risk of crumbling when key individuals leave..

That's why I was delighted when Christa Sathish suggest taking the #PositiveAcademia initiative further and create a Positive Academia Network (see next section). This puts the whole movement on a much more sustainable footing. However, a big part of sustainability is digital preservation. Humetrics puts this very cogently.

Being part of a community means thinking beyond the now, proactively considering the preservation of all elements of the scholarly record (from blog posts to conference papers to tweets and vines), thinking forward to the publics and communities that might find value or interest in our work ten, fifty, or one hundred years from today.

That is why we will follow a three-pronged approach in this area. Anne-Wil will continue to post on PositiveAcademia and ProactiveAcademia on LinkedIn and on her blog and Christa will maintain a PositiveAcademia section on her own website. However, in time the Positive Academia website will also have its own website.    

Positive Academia Network

In the Summer of 2023, Christa Sathish - who ran her own stream of posts on LinkedIn on PhD wellness and student wellbeing supporting the #PositiveAcademia - suggested we should take the #PositiveAcademia initiative further. She created a Positive Academia mailing list, and we are planning regular newsletters focusing on constructive and positive ways to change academic cultures.

She also initiated the Positive Academia Network, that was launched in September 2023. This network is very much related to the #PositiveAcademia initiative, but expands on it by defining a programme of research and practice. It has its own webpage maintained by Christa Sathish.

We organised two events in November 2023 and completed one project that are part of the #Positive Academia remit. They are all summarised on their own pages:

We are also building up a LinkedIn Group that you are very welcome to join.

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