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 provides some tips on how senior academics can continue to be proactive in their careers. 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 the 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 others I admire.

So far, I have shared about 60 of them 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 & 2024

NOTE: this interview was conducted in November 2022. Since then, I have continued to develop the positive academia initiative. Include some notes on the new things I have done in 2023 and what I plan to do in 2024. 

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