It takes a village

The photographer is on a mission to capture the perfect family picture. My mom has her back at the camera, one child is trying to run away while the other one is trying to hold him, my mentor just tripped on the stairs, and the rest of us are simply trying to coordinate our bodies.

It might seem like chaos with a family of ten, but we know that we’ve got it all under control. The person in charge of the ceremony is trying to understand this web of relationships: ‘Who is your partner? Are these your children?’

This is my village.

It’s been a weekend since I had my oratie, which formally marks full professorship, and I haven’t stopped smiling.

I reconnected with friends who made the trip from far places and various time zones to celebrate with me. I fell even more in love with my research team as they sang together, as always out of tune, a new version of ‘Dancing Queen’. A combination of multiple languages, dancing to traditional Greek wedding songs (the reason remains a mystery) with Iranian food and Italian wine. A room that felt too small to contain the overwhelming love.

In a rare moment of clarity where I feel older (by a weekend) and wiser, I feel almost obliged to share a piece of advice to all students and staff: build your village.

Why did I end my oratie by saying that it takes a village? In my experience, those who make it through this weird journey to full professorship have – besides a strong academic record – the support of a lot other people: colleagues, managers, students who cheer for them, families who root for them, but most importantly, lots of academic friends.

The most successful academics that I know are those who ‘waste’ time chatting with colleague

Gone are the days when academic excellence alone would suffice. A long list of publications, awards, grants, and recognitions – those are old news. A productive but loner academic journey is both utterly boring and depressing.

It might seem counter-productive to be spending time bouncing off random ideas with colleagues at the office, serving in (some) committees, or dreaming with students about changing the world instead of sitting behind the computer at home all day doing your own thing uninterrupted, but the most successful academics that I know are those who ‘waste’ time chatting with colleagues in the hallway.

They take the time to hang out with students, offer generous feedback to their office mates, volunteer for all sorts of community events, write and publish at a slower pace because they write with junior researchers, work with dreamers on research proposals with a 3 percent success rate and celebrate even when those are rejected, because they have found each other.

Build your village. Why isn’t this a rule?


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