Today, I am starting to share my notes from my earlier years, which included some self-help strategies for growth as a precarious academic (back then). Precarity is a known phenomenon in academia, yet there is not enough advice for the precariat. My hope is that these pages would reach those who had similar struggles, multiple pressures, and needed to find advice.
Before a big fat grant interview that I was shortlisted after a competitive selection process
I think I had two main principles: 1) Connecting with friends and supportive colleagues. 2) Avoiding toxicity.
It is not always easy to make yourself vulnerable to an academic crowd. I, however, am a huge believer of the importance of sharing an unfinished work and hear your supportive colleagues' criticism. With the help of my partner, I have organized multiple mock-interviews and let my friends come to the ones they are available to attend, to provide feedback. I have done this multiple times and it has allowed me to refine the presentation and my responses to the Q&A. I had created flashcards (a huge believer of flashcards too) that I could pass to my friends so that if they couldn’t think of a question, they could pick one or two questions from the deck.
Basically, I was avoiding people who have said, when I told them about my project, that it is “very ambitious” with a tad of highlight on “very” making it sound like it is too ambitious. Strangely, “ambition”, or more specifically “excellence in ambition” was one of the criteria for the particular funding anyway. I had limited emotional energy and I needed to budget it well. And for this, I had to avoid finding myself in a scenario where I had to explain why I might have deserved it. Instead, I chose complete avoidance.
Some of the people I had to avoid were those I was looking up to. The admiration might start working against you if the person you admired has a particularly negative tone — a tone that was repeating in my case.
I was avoiding such voices especially because I was afraid such voices (of those I look up to) run the risk of becoming my own voice of self-critique. Which was the opposite of what someone in my position needed. Someone who wouldn’t have a job the following year and thus this grant would matter tremendously for her. Therefore, what I needed for the interview was to find a way to boost my self-confidence. Or, at least, to avoid the ones who might easily crush it.
What I needed from such senior academics instead was positive guidance. So the following lines would be for senior academics who are not sure whether they are being toxic to their juniors.
- Never keep repeating how impossible what they plan to do is. If all you can ever offer in the name of help or feedback is to keep repeating the impossibility, you are far from being helpful. You are being a soul-crusher. (No matter how you legitimise your attitude to yourself.)
- If you are able enough to see the challenges, then the best thing you can do is to suggest ways of solving them. (In my case, I needed guidance on how to answer a particular type of questions on the feasibility and I have later on developed a way to provide answers to such questions.)