A lot of the stuff we do in the academic life … it’s like asking for a date.
Some jobs have cut-and-dried procedures, but for the most part, our line of work does not. Within certain parameters, we’re making it up as we go along, finding our way. And since we live and work in community with others, we often find ourselves in a position where we must ask those others to partner with us on various endeavors. ”Will you serve on my committee?” ”Would you like to write a paper together?” ”Will you write me a recommendation?”
These situations are a bit scary, because they involve the possibility of rejection. If the person says no, we’re not only left without a writing partner or recommendation letter, we’re embarrassed. No matter how much they try to cushion the blow by telling us that they’d really love to help, but just can’t right now, we feel like a second-grader who’s been picked last for dodgeball. It feels personal, like it wasn’t the request that was rejected, but our worth as a scholar.
In our business, it’s so easy to feel insecure. The end product of our work - the paper, the presentation, the oral defense - is where we demonstrate our very ability to think deeply, to reason. That’s what’s on the line when we ask someone for their help, or their partnership; our identity as scholars.
The challenge is to become secure in that identity, to come through the rejections with our self-worth intact. It’s a tricky business. In our line of work, advancement often depends on the approval of others - advisors, journal editors, peer reviewers.
How do we manage all this? I don’t have all the answers - like everyone else, I’m figuring it out as I go along - but I think I’ve found some keys. First, we must work to cultivate strong relationships, so that when we are in a position of needing someone else’s approval, we have a foundation of success to rely on. And secondly, we need to know our stuff, to study and read and think deeply, so that we can articulate our thoughts in the strongest possible manner.
There’s always the possibility that another person will say “no” to our request, but we can stack the deck in our favor. Build a solid reputation. Cultivate relationships. And be ready to stand back up if you get knocked down.
Always in your corner -