This week I attended two talks on how competitiveness in academia hurts young scholars by pushing them to up their productivity at the expense of the quality of research. “Well, no wonder” – I thought to myself – “why I feel so stressed most of the time, damn you academic culture of competition and constant comparison.”
Yes, North American academia is competitive. It is not news to anyone. You can read all about it in The Chronicle of Higher Education, laughed at it with Piled Higher and Deeper Comics, or witness it in global university ranking metrics. Produce more. Produce better. Produce faster. Your future depends on it.
That is exactly the reason why so many graduate students suffer from an imposer syndrome or feel like a failure every time their proposal is turned down. From day one in graduate school I was told not to compare, but how can I avoid it? All I see around are first year PhDs publishing first authored articles. I see names of students with big awards highlighted on webpages. I read congratulations passed around to those whose scholarship contributed to the academic discourse. Every time your name is not mentioned, you missed the mark, you didn’t try hard enough, you are not good enough.
In graduate school we are bombarded with contradictory directives. Contribute to the community, they say, but don’t forget that this and that has already finished their comps. Take vitamin D and don’t forget to relax, they say, but hey… you have only four years of funding to get this degree over with. We are told: “There are many venues out there for you to grow”, but they someone decides that they would rather focus on their family and alas “what a potential is wasted” are the whispers we hear. What is it? Is academia suffering from an identity crisis?
I wonder if those of us, who return to the ‘ battlefield’ of teaching practice will ever be recognized for trying to implement all of our complex theories in their classrooms. I wonder if journal editors would ever publish an article that is written without copular verbs. I wonder whether work with the marginalized communities can be recognized in the academia if it is not framed by ‘buzzing’ post- anything theories.
I have no idea, also I have a class to prepare, a proposal to submit, a talk to draft, and research literature review to write. “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” Daft Punk wrote a song about my life.