Academic Kindness

A record of unsolicited kindness, unexpected goodwill, and excessive generosity in academia.


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Conference collegiality

Ten years ago, I was attending my first big international conference in a major European city. I had just passed my comps, but had not yet started writing my dissertation and thus was not worth talking to, according to the logic of the name tag once-over that determines so many conference interactions. I didn’t know a single person at the conference, which was full of prominent scholars whose books I had read while studying for comps and to whom I was too intimidated to introduce myself. A few days into the conference, when I was despairing of making any real connections, a senior scholar struck up a casual conversation while we were waiting in line for the ladies’ room; when she discovered that I didn’t know anyone, she promptly introduced me to the group she was with (which included some of those people whose books I had read). They all essentially took me under their wing, asked about my research interests, and made sure I met the people I needed to. I will always be grateful for their collegiality, freely extended to an unknown grad student. Now, whenever I go to conferences, I always try look out for grad students and junior colleagues who are in the same position I was and draw them into the conversation and make sure that they feel like part of the academic community too. 

My PhD supervisor has been busy working on a grant proposal, and this week I walked into my office and found this lovely surprise on my desk. They had bought me a book to ‘make up’ for their being busy working on other things. This was really touching - not only because they had thought of this and gone out of their way to do something so nice, but because even while being busy they are still an amazing supervisor. 

My PhD supervisor has been busy working on a grant proposal, and this week I walked into my office and found this lovely surprise on my desk. They had bought me a book to ‘make up’ for their being busy working on other things. This was really touching - not only because they had thought of this and gone out of their way to do something so nice, but because even while being busy they are still an amazing supervisor. 

Anonymous said: Academic kindness? Is that an oxymoron?

apparently not.

melioravit said: Thank you for doing this! Really.

Aw thanks! And thanks especially for the encouraging message during the midsummer silence. We all can agree that the real gratitude should be directed to each person who took the time to write a submission and the mentors and strangers who’ve inspired these posts. Without their stream of stories, kindness might still seem a mythic fluke. Please keep sending in your memories, or maybe if any readers have copied a kindness tactic or changed their habits, pass that on too.

Blue and Proud

Today I sent a thank-you to the facultymember who, years ago, heard one of my stories about my family and told me about living in a trailer with his wife during gradschool. His first academic contract stipulated that he did not have to wear a white collar. In those years his collars were blue. He is a fine scholar, well-regarded in his field, and such an important mentor for those of us who, like him, come to academia from far outside of it. He has supported me in my career path for many years.

My dissertation advisor was a senior British academic with a reputation for being a very hard professor. He was emotionally quite reserved. I struggled with my dissertation and in the course of my graduate school career was married and divorced, and felt, like most people, extremely insecure about my work.

I wanted so much to please this professor whom I so admired. But I felt we couldn’t talk about what a hard time I was having. However, he always made time to meet with me, and always took time to take me out for a coffee and talk at length about my project, drawing notes on paper napkins I could take with me so I’d remember our discussion. These conversations always helped me feel like I was making progress.

At some point, he asked me what I did for fun, to relax. All I could come up with was my weekly yoga class. He told me it was really important to keep up the yoga, and every time we met after that he always made it a point to ask me how the yoga was going. He was actually the only professor I had who seemed to pay attention to me as a person. I knew that he cared about how I was really doing. Since my graduation and his retirement we have continued our friendship and I ask my graduate students how they are doing and what they do for fun, regularly.

A pretty good birthday after all

A mandatory New Faculty Orientation was scheduled for 7:30 am on my birthday. So early in the morning! I didn’t want to be there or talk to anyone so I sat alone at the table closest to the coffee urns.Then the organizer of the Orientation came over to talk to me. He was an administrator in a very different area of specialization and he wouldn’t let me just quietly drink my coffee.

He found out that it was my birthday and that my area of work overlapped with one of his neighbors. To my surprise, a few days later he invited me out for coffee and introduced me to this person,who rarely goes to social events, doesn’t answer email, and is a real hermit. He is now a friend and mentor.

But this person didn’t leave it there. He still invites me out for coffee, even though he’s been promoted to a Provost-rank position.We chat about teaching. He has advised me on how to handle academic bullies. He introduced me to other people I never otherwise would have met.  He has budget disasters to solve, kids growing up, more meetings in a day than I face in a week or two, yet he still says hello on the streets and always wants to know how I’m doing. He cheers me up and cheers me on. He never just lets me drink my coffee quietly.

Thank you.

Anonymous said: I needed a book chapter for a project I was working on, so I checked with my university library but found that the book wasn't available because it was used for long-term loan. I then emailed the author of the chapter, who didn't have a copy of his own chapter either. He suggested I email the editors of that book. One of the editors replied saying that he didn't have an electronic copy available but he very kindly offered to mail me a copy of the book!

How generous and collegial! Enjoy the book! Thank you for sharing this story, and thank you anonymous editor for your kindness.

unsolicited article review

The other day, out of the blue, I received an email from a senior scholar in my field. He had only just got to a published article of mine, and was writing to say how much he enjoyed it, and how much it extends the discourse. I’m currently going through the mill on the job market, and this short email (received on a Saturday morning) really re-established my confidence in myself and my scholarship. 

I replied, thanked him, and told him about my future research plans. This kind email turned into a lengthy exchange in which he offered detailed and helpful advice, most of which I intend to use. Some of his advice I’ve chosen not to take—and that, in itself, is a confidence boost!

Anonymous said: Not sure if it's been posted yet, but at UC Davis someone started a facebook page called "UCD Compliments" where one may go to say nice things about other people on campus. A student pointed out to me when her classmate posted something there about me--as a lecturer there for only one year and little feedback from my department, this made my year. Thanks, UCD community, for being genuinely good people!

Oh how wonderful! Congratulations, anonymous lecturer!

Many campuses have a Compliments page on Facebook. Why not check out https://www.facebook.com/UcDavisCompliments and then browse to see if there’s one for your own community.

Anonymous said: Thank for running this blog... It's a really lovely thing to see

Dear Anonymous:

Thank you for this kind message! It is so heartening to see each new submission as it comes in and witness the positive responses pour in. Thank you to each and every person who has submitted a story thus far, and to everyone who has favorited, shared, or reblogged a post.

Testing Facebook and Twitter Accounts

Dear followers and fans:

As you may have noticed, AcademicKindness has fallen into a mid-semester silence. My apologies! Thank you all for your support and your contributions! Please do continue submitting your wonderful stories.

This post is a TEST and an announcement of a new Social Media Adventure. With a bit of luck, the post should also be tweeted by @AcademicKindness and linked to https://www.facebook.com/AcademicKindness

Whether or not this test-post works properly, those of you who prefer other social media platforms should soon be able to keep up with posts.