Do it because you can
14 June 2016 18 Comments
I tried to let this particular white-hot rage die down. But it won’t.
So, hopefully, here’s a constructive post built from the foundations of my infuriation.
I heard a researcher talking about how they balanced their academic work life a while ago, and it made me very angry.
Basically, they said that anything that wasn’t clearly noted as part of their workload, they wouldn’t bother doing.
The implication being that anyone who did ‘extra’ or ‘unnecessary’ things were total mugs because those things weren’t getting them ahead in their careers – therefore, not worth doing. They considered the idea of communicating research (and social media as a whole) as a fad in which only the gullible would indulge their time.
They also seemed smug, and it’s always hard for me to like those who seem smug.
I agree that people shouldn’t fall on their swords and slog away at little recognised, exploitative roles or over-the-workload-limit tasks and responsibilities. I’m not saying that academics must carry the weight of all that needs to be done, because we know that it’s always already too much.
What made me so angry was that this researcher wasn’t talking about solidarity with colleagues in the face of workload adversity. They were totally focused on what would be worthwhile doing for their own career and promotion prospects; everything else was secondary, if not worthless.
It went against everything I believed in, within the academic sector and beyond. As I wrote in my earlier post on “What makes a good colleague“:
“There is a whole raft of intangible, essential, labour-intensive work that goes into a healthy research ecosystem”.
Nothing makes me see red more than people who are willing to take advantage of a strong, collegial research environment but don’t contribute to the necessary and intangible work that makes that environment possible. They’ll take every research opportunity, but aren’t willing to work alongside various colleagues to create those same opportunities for others.
Either they fail to recognise that they are enjoying a context created by the work of others, or they think that the work done by those colleagues is beneath them.
Either way, white-hot rage!
I’ve realised over the years that what I’m good at – and really have a passion for – is bringing people together and making things happen. The biggest face of this is the research network that I helped create and have run for over a decade now. At its core, the AASRN creates an intellectual community under the broad sociopolitical umbrella of Asian Australian Studies. Through the network, members have helped each other out with research questions, worked on major projects, assisted with recruitment for a wide range of projects, collaborated on and attended one another’s events, shared references and papers, and got to hang out and befriend like-minded colleagues. Many of the collegial relationships made in the first few years of AASRN’s existence remain intact, and are often stronger, today.
In the various positions I’ve occupied (salaried or not), I’ve recommended various researchers for academic roles, written letters of support, been a referee, and widely shared news about positions and new fellowships/scholarships. I’ve introduced researchers to one another when I thought they’d enjoy meeting and have cool things to talk about and plans to hatch. Through Research Whisperer with Jonathan, we’ve made a space for researchers to connect about academic identities and cultures, and offer insight into the funding games and academe more broadly. I still wear way too many hats.
Many colleagues comment that it’s a lot to do, they don’t know how I do it, and they say they’re really glad I do. Occasionally, someone will ask why I’d bother doing some of the things I do, because those things don’t result in an immediate (or even horizon) career pay-off.
My answer is that I do it because I can. I know that sounds a bit Pollyanna-ish, and those who know me will likely LOL because I’m anything but Pollyanna-ish, but it’s true: I do it because I can.
For example, my scholarly output has been affected by the fact that I have often edited books or special journal issues. I’ve chosen to edit these publications because they’re an opportunity to showcase emerging researchers’ work, and add more depth to a field I’ve helped create. I’ve written about how I think “[t]here is no better way to fast-track your grasp of academic productivity and evaluation than becoming a journal editor” (Becoming a journal editor).
I’ve also written and published my own papers, of course, but there’s no doubt there’d be a lot more of them if I didn’t edit a thing.
I think about that at times, when I do that terrible comparison that we do with others within our broader career cohort. I think about whether those authored papers might’ve tipped my track-record over into being more competitive for the major fellowships I’ve previously applied for in vain.
What if I’d written those papers instead of editing those journal issues? What if I’d never convened those conferences or symposiums? If I’d never help start that postgrad group, or served on that academic association committee? If I’d ignored requests for advice about starting professional networks, or planning research programs? Some of them now look good on my CV and have become part of my career narrative but I didn’t do them for that.
My academic and professional life is all the richer for taking on diverse roles, and I gain a lot satisfaction from knowing that I’ve made things happen for a field and its next generation of researchers. I recognise that all the things I’m able to do today comes from the work of those who’ve come before me, especially given that I’m in the area of critical race studies and often focused on racialisation and discrimination. Where would I be without my intellectual, activist predecessors?
For things large and small, then, I help and do good things when I can. Because, really, why wouldn’t you? Why would you want to be part of a community that always did otherwise?