Are academics, well, mean? I was struck by this article in the Chronicle, with its tales of rudeness and personal attacks among scholars:
I’ve seen grad students get skewered at conferences; it’s never happened to me, but never say never. And it’s terrible. Sometimes we joke among ourselves that grad school is our academic “hazing period” - if we can make it through to the end of the dissertation defense, they’ll declare us one of the club. Until then, we have to keep our heads down (or so we’re told). Only those with tenure are allowed to speak freely.
I often reflect on the ways we treat one another within my discipline, and also how we treat students in the classroom. When working with undergrads, I try to challenge them, but at the same time, to remember that learning is hard and students are vulnerable. Constructive criticism will help them grow, but feedback that’s overly blunt or harsh could discourage the uncertain, and make them feel defeated right out of the gate. I would hate to do that, just because I was unthinking or careless in my feedback.
As for grad school - I don’t know anyone who’s reached the end of this journey without some bumps and bruises. But we don’t have to pass them on, and join in the “hazing” of the next academic generation. Let’s make a different choice - to be kinder to others than they’ve been to us, and to make the academy a cordial environment, and a safe place to explore and question and learn.