I see one of two dispositions in almost every pair of eyes when I am face to face with my fellow researchers. They are two very common looks in academia. Let’s call them the cynical demeanor and the cutthroat demeanor.
Ah, the cutthroat demeanor. These are the folks who are still ambitious. They are the over-achievers, the ones with subpar but acceptable papers published in all the “right” journals. They know the lingo and know what’s en vogue. Often times they rush through material and are productivity driven. They are gunning for those few and far between research gigs in higher academia. It seems as though they are constantly running and never stop to actually think about what they are saying.
And then there were the cynics. These are the ex-cutthroats. They have decided they would rather not join the rat race. Their eyes are tired and suspicious. Instead of learning from the “fast track” of eat-or-be-eaten and slowing down, the cynics often dismiss the whole enterprise and just settle for getting through the research, as if it is an unfortunate slog, a mere hoop to jump through.
Personally, I oscillate between these two demeanors. I suspect that is the case for many if not all researchers. They are dangerously easy camps to get entrenched in. But I would like to learn a third way. I believe it’s possible.
Maybe it would look like enjoyment. Enjoying my research without obsessing over ambition and success. Enjoying my research without resigning from the thrill of engagement with colleagues. In short, choosing not to be cutthroat, nor cynical.
No matter what you do, remember to enjoy it. Don’t compare yourself to others and don’t lose heart when others do the comparing.
Just remember to enjoy.