Outlines the rationale for and the practice of the #PositiveAcademia movement that I launched in January 2022

In September 2017 I introduced a new Positive Academia category for my blog with a first post on: Return to Meaning: A Social Science with Something to Say. Since then I have been posting irregularly on this topic with posts such as:

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Launching a movement

Late in 2021, I decided it was time for a step-change and I started the #PositiveAcademia movement in January 2022. Launching #PositiveAcademia does not mean I am oblivious to the many dysfunctionalities in modern-day academia. You cannot work in academia for more than 30 years without being exposed to its "dark side". However, I didn't want to be one of the many who just complain from the side-lines (see Proactive academia (3): My advice for senior academics).

At the same time, having taken on many administrative roles in academia, I am acutely aware of how difficult it can be to achieve systemic change. Even so, I continue to work towards Transforming academia in the longer term by doing action-oriented research in three inter-related fields: EDI & Talent Management, Building inclusive and proactive research cultures, and Transforming Research Evaluation.

Through your (seemingly effortless) efforts you have been changing the culture in academia here and there, in many places to be precise. It is not that you are simply setting and raising the quality benchmarks for academics, but you are making these benchmarks achievable for many. [one of the members of our CYGNA women in academia network].

Changing academia through small intentional actions

In the short term, however, identifying, celebrating, and amplifying the positive aspects of academia might be a better way to start creating the change we would like to see. I try to achieve this by small, but intentional actions. A large part of my current role at Middlesex University revolves around building and supporting inclusive research cultures. This is achieved by a comprehensive model of staff development, as well my work in EDI and talent management.

The key to its success is consistent and tireless day-to-day activities. Building a supportive and inclusive research culture might sound wonderful, and is included in most research strategies and action plans these days. These documents, however, are often mere "statements of intent", created simply to satisfy external demands.

Instead, my own work at MDX is guided by an emergent, incremental, and iterative type of strategy with practical, day-to-day, on-the-ground support. This philosophy is summarised in my presentation at the 2020 CABS conference: From words to action, from outcome to process and the video below.

LinkedIn recommendations

One of the intentional acts I have embarked on is writing public recommendations on LinkedIn for colleagues, mentees, co-authors, and others I admire. This idea came to me in the 2021 Christmas break, in the depths of the second pandemic winter. I was looking for ways to cheer my colleagues up on a regular basis. So, I started writing down what I appreciated about them, and the words flowed easily.

Curious what these recommendations look like? Here is an example for one of my Middlesex colleagues, Clarice Santos, who is making her own contributions to Positive Academia by being co-lead for the British Academy Early Career Network for London.

So far, I have shared more than 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.

Every Friday I share #Positive academia resources on LinkedIn that may assist others in engaging in #PositiveAcademia too. In January 2023 created three different streams of contributions: resources supporting #PositiveAcademia, LinkedIn recommendations, and initiating discussions on LinkedIn around core #PositiveAcademia themes.

Writing a kind email

If writing a LinkedIn recommendation is too public for you, just write someone a kind email occasionally (see: Changing academic culture: one email at a time...). 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.

Notice a paper that one of your colleagues/co-authors/academic friends might like? Why not send them a quick email with a link to it? Even if they already read the paper, they will welcome your email. Like what someone has done to one of their online profiles. Why not drop them a quick note?

You can also 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 and how it made their day.

Or you can send a kind email to someone who has done a good job in performing a particular professional service role, for instance as an editor or organizing a conference. Remember these are all academic volunteering jobs. These academics are sacrificing their time to help you!

Positive actions benefit the receiver and the giver

Research has shown that acts of kindness often benefit both the receiver and the giver. Making someone else feel better usually puts you in a positive mood too. I found this article about energy management at work very helpful as it links physical and mental well-being. Its key table (below) reports on ways to recover energy at work (measured as vitality and lack of fatigue), rather than recovery during non-work times.

Frequently used strategies such as checking email, drinking coffee, or surfing the web do not appear to lead to recovery. Instead, strategies related to learning, meaning at work, and positive relationships with colleagues create energy. Interestingly, these are exactly the things we are aiming for in Positive Academia.

What I found particularly interesting is that venting about a problem to a colleague is a strategy that has a strong negative impact on energy at work. This certainly rings true to me. Although it can be good to "let it all out" occasionally, regular venting sessions only leave one more pessimistic and fatalistic. I found this comment by one of my Middlesex mentees - Sîan Stephens - particularly illuminative. That is #Positive Academia for you.

I've noticed that, when I'm annoyed at everyone and everything, doing something nice for someone else is a good re-set. I don't apply this at work very much, but I shall start.

Recognition for my work in positive academia

The #PositiveAcademia initiative launched formally in January 2022. However, looking back at my academic career since 1991, I came to realise that many of my endeavours throughout my career have had the same focus on small incremental steps to gradually build a more positive academia. I am grateful that this was acknowledged with several awards recognising my work in this area.

Positive Academia: inclusion, proactiveness & sustainability

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.

Sustainability is also a big part of the Humetrics initiative which - though focused on evaluation of scholarship - is very similar to Positive Academia in its basic values. For more detail on the key values of Humetrics - equity, openness, collegiality, soundness, and community - see Chapter 7 of my book Measuring and improving research impact.

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 a Positive Academia LinkedIn Group. We are also distributing regular Bulletins focusing on constructive and positive ways to change academic cultures.

Christa 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. You can connect with us on LinkedIn by scanning this QR code.

#EveryLittleActionCounts Campaign: 2024-2025

At Positive Academia we believe that embracing small positive actions in our daily academic work can contribute to the positive transformation of our academic culture. Our Every Little Action Counts campaign will be running from 2024 to 2025. During this period, we kickstart your week with ideas for positive actions every Monday. Part of the first post is reproduced below, but you can find all our weekly posts on LinkedIn under the hashtag EveryLittleActionCounts.

We encourage everyone to try and make a positive difference and advocate for such actions in their environment. We look forward to hearing about, and learning from, your experience and inputs. Join our collective movement and become an advocate of Positive Academia!

Week 1: One Email at a time

You are only one message away from contributing to #PositiveAcademia! We believe that we all can make academia a kinder place by simply appreciating each other.

Hence, we encourage everyone to send at least one nice message either via email or social media post (e.g., LinkedIn recommendation or endorsement), appreciating somebody’s (colleague, co-author, student) work, achievements, or collaboration. For ideas on how to do this have a look at my post on changing academic culture here: Using LinkedIn recommendations to support others.

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