Academia is a pretty serious business. Even in Australia, which hasn’t quite reached the carnivorous levels of the US, competition for research grants, for positions and for awards in different fields is intense. In many ways, it’s like the selective school for the real world – everybody you deal with who’s either done a PhD or is about to complete one is clever and dedicated – and perhaps has a whole host of other advantages, too. It’s easy to understand why many new researchers or students suffer from ‘imposter’ syndrome – that persistent feeling that you don’t really belong here and it’s only a matter of time until someone finds that out. And then it’s to the chopping block for you.
That kind of environment can bring out the worst in people. After all, we all want to succeed, and sometimes just the notion of competition might encourage us to adopt practices that we might regret in less stressful times. Such is the nature of the business. But it doesn’t have to be like that. I’ve been fortunate (and it took hearing some horror stories to realise exactly how fortunate) to have some excellent role models as I make my way into the world of academia. There are, of course, my supervisors, whom I’ve been fortunate to work well with and to learn a great deal from. There are my fellow students, who’ve been generous with their time, their resources, their ideas and talents.
But I’ve also been very fortunate to have established relationships with a number of academics through seminars, activities and conferences, and from these academics, who shall remain anonymous for this blog, I’ve seen a different vision of what academia might be like. There are academics out there who seek out and encourage young researchers (and not so young, too, in my case) finding ways to develop their ideas and draw out their thoughts and work.