Of love and caring in academia

Disclaimer: the following post should not be taken as a critique towards my previous or current employer. Its sole purpose is to make us more aware of the importance of love and caring in (academic) workplaces.

During the last few days I have been putting a lot of thought into the importance of being surrounded by caring and loving people, and this in turn made me reflect on the nature of academic work and what kind of actions are institutionally rewarded in our line of work. This post, then, is a manifesto of some sort for bringing love and caring back to scholarly activities.

When I think about the kind of activities that give me pleasure in my work and that are institutionally rewarded, it sometimes seems as if they seldom overlap. The more high quality articles I manage to get published (whatever is deemed as high quality at any given point of time), the better chances I have for advancing my career and thus ultimately being tenured. Now, when talking about quantity it is implicitly understood that people are able to churn out more articles when working together with their colleagues, but collaboration as such is not – at least as far as I know – awarded. To exaggerate, it is only the publications that count.

In addition to publications, teaching and acts of collegiality also do seem to play a role in career advancement, yet their contribution has received less attention. Working as a reviewer or editor, teaching classes of various sizes, supervising students, raising funding for research, administrative work, recognitions for outstanding reviews or articles / conference papers, and so forth, are all seen as acts towards increasing our scholarly clout. These are all activities that I more or less feel passionate about, but in order to achieve these and a sensation of positive flow we need something else. That ‘something else’, I argue, is love and caring. Not only towards our own work, students, and research subjects, but perhaps most importantly towards our colleagues and ourselves.

Let me ask you a simple question. When was the last time you asked your colleague how they are doing? Even further, when was the last time you hugged your colleague? Sometimes it feels we as academics are so deep in our own research – finding that next big thing – that we forget we are surrounded by equally ambitious and passionate people who are doing the exact same thing. At times it might feel as if we are mercenaries only bound together by our desire to do our employer’s bidding so that we one day could achieve a tenured position.

What we need is a revolution of love and caring. A new form of resistance towards institutionalized jargon and pressure that relies on love and caring. Love in the sense that we take back our sense of freedom by doing the kind of research we love and appreciate the same in our colleagues; caring in the sense that we take care of ourselves and those we work with.

No more do we need to ask ‘how high?’ when universities and publishers ask us to jump. No more do we need to focus on working harder and faster when people around us are being laid off and we are asked to do more and more.

No. No more.

What we need now is to step back, reclaim our passion and love for work, and show our colleagues how much we appreciate their work. This is what the revolution of love and caring is about. It might come in various forms – subtle and revolutionizing – but the best part is that the end results will benefit all parties. Universities are employing more motivated researchers, publishers are receiving more manuscripts based on love and passion, and we as scholars are once again focusing on research that is based on our love and passion for our work.

So, do yourself a favour and hug your colleague now.

One thought on “Of love and caring in academia

  1. i agree that academic life is not very loving (hell, I left it!) but I think the problems come, at least most of them from the fact that your colleagues are essentially also your competitors. You compete for the same funds, the same (or almost) teaching assignments, the same resources and to publish in the same journals… all these are finite resources and if you get the grant, I don’t so basically academic life becomes a zero sum game. Furthermore, we’re all more less equally qualified, we all have PhDs, we all are experts in our discipline, we all speak at least two languages… so to stand out we have to stand out in the getting grants, publications, etc. area… The result of these two factors I think makes up the perfect storm of creating a tense competitive dog-eats-dog environment…

    A big hug for you!

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