“Don’t be so kind you forget to be clever, don’t be so clever you forgot to be kind”.
I have always been a sucker for resonating with lyrics, and this recent line from Taylor Swift struck a chord with my current experiences of early academia. Academia is competitive, basically everything in academia is built upon competing with others. Getting published feels like you are competing with the peer-reviewers, you need to compete against other publications to get citations, you compete for funding, and you’re judged upon your h-index. By the time you have completed your PhD, you are well aware of this competition, but it is still difficult to navigate.
A mentor of mine recently discussed the importance of choosing collaborations carefully in early academia, so as to not ‘help’ your competition. This is hard, our collaborators in many cases are our colleagues, our friends. You spend hours with people who you end up competing with for elusive contracts. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer they say, but in academia the line is so blurred. Everyone is your friend and your enemy. More accurately everyone is your competition.
I am still not sure how exactly to navigate this all. To be honest I have never been a competitive person. I did not complete my PhD because of competitiveness. If anything I completed my PhD because of stubbornness. This competitiveness is one of the reasons I left academia for a year. However, my current plan is to be mindful of my own progress while still trying to lift others up. I never want to get somewhere by bringing another down, but I also never want to allow someone to bring me down over to get where they desire. This is where I resonate with Taylor Swifts words, “Don’t be so kind you forget to be clever, don’t be so clever you forgot to be kind”.