Here is a comment that was recently left on this blog:
You’re a total pussy and judging by the comments above, that’s the norm in academia.
There is no justice in the world and there are no other lives where people get their karmic reward. You need to have the courage to tell people where to get off here and now, that’s the only way to beat the a-holes.
HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!! Sounds like someone who (1) isn’t in academics and (2) wasn’t loved enough as a child.
But, it raises an important issue related to academics–how far do you take a fight? Do you walk away, take a stand or take the fight to others? It depends. There are times when you will have to take it up the ass because the alternate would come at too great a cost. But there are also times when it is completely appropriate and worth it to follow this commenter’s philosophy.
However, “You need to have the courage to tell people where to get off here and now, that’s the only way to beat the a-holes” is the fastest way to get kicked out of academics in my experience, which is why I am writing this post. In my opinion, the hardest thing you will have to do in academics is when at some point you will have to hold back on the urge to tell an asshole where to get off. One of the barriers to always speaking your mind is the fact that your career (especially early on–but really until you become a departmental chair it seems) is controlled by a small group of people who all know each, were med or grad school buddies, talk to each other and hire based on each others recommendations. Which is why pissing off the wrong person can totally destroy a career. Moreover, someone is always trying to stick it to you in academics. Papers, authorship, reagents, call schedule, etc. Sometimes you gotta take one. It’s called being a “team player”–a buzz word in medicine, for sure. Even a reputation as someone who is not a team player can hurt.
My point is that I’ve known a number of people who have adopted the general approach of “You need to have the courage to tell people where to get off here and now, that’s the only way to beat the a-holes“. They have either been kicked out of or nearly kicked out of medical school, graduate school, residency and fellowship. None remain in academics. Which is why my empiric evidence suggests to me that you gotta be careful when it comes to getting into major conflicts. You can be as courageous as you want to be but if it costs you your academic career or even an extra year or two in training, will it be worth it then? Everyone I know who has gone through this would say that it wasn’t worth it. I agree that sometimes it is worth it to throw down. I’ve had to a number of times as well and while it wasn’t pretty, it was the right move to make at that point. But those occasions were few and far between. More often than not, I and everyone else I know have had to take it.
Some people may call that being a pussy. I call it being careful, calculating and deliberate. I also think telling off every asshole that gets in your way is a poor career move and usually makes you appear to be an asshole as well. Finally, I would be wary of anyone who suggests this as a general approach to life in academics. This is not meant as an offense to the commenter but is simply based on the outcomes I’ve seen.
So what to do? As I’ve tried to relay before, I think the key is to first and foremost avoid such situations if possible, which is why I’ve been writing about my experiences in order to give suggestions for how to do so. Second, I think you always have to be calculating and deliberate in what actions you do take. If you decide to fight, then make sure it’s worth it. If it’s not worth it, then walk away. In either case, you can’t take a general willy-nilly approach to every circumstance.
I’ve put out my experience on this but if readers from any stage in academia want to share their thoughts, experiences, or suggestions in the comments, I’d love to hear them since I think this issue of when and how far to take a fight is an important one for an academic career.