Toward a Repertoire of Academic Kindness

One of the things that we discussed at the initial meet-up for #humanehumanities some of us went to at the American Academy of Religion last month was trying to build a collection of “best practices” for supporting others in the field, particularly those who are more junior or precarious. I think all of us have things that we do or that others have done for us. It can be hard, though, to see all the opportunities for kindness when we are all always pressed for time, rushing from one thing to the next. Compiling a list helps us expand one another’s repertoires so we have more techniques ready at hand.

To get the ball rolling, one of the things that was very helpful to me and that I have tried to pay forward is sharing professional documents. There are many high-stakes pieces of writing in academia—personal statements, job letters, tenure statements—but we rarely get to see other examples of the genre until we’re on the other side of the process. Sharing our own documents with those who are trying to compose or review their own can provide useful models and demystify the process.

In my own career, I got stuck for a while on my book proposal. There was so much riding on it and it started to take on this intimidating stature in my mind. Finally, after a rough second-year review, I asked a tenured colleague if I could see his proposal for a book he had under contract. I read it and…and it wasn’t that big of a thing, no different in many ways than selling a project for a grant proposal. Still nervous but no longer intimidated, I knocked a proposal together and started sending it in.

Since then I’ve shared my book proposal with many people. If it seems relevant and helpful, I offer and pull out my phone to send the Dropbox link on the spot so I don’t forget. I’ve also made a point of offering to share all my tenure-review documents with junior faculty coming up behind me since a poorly framed document was one of the reasons for my rough second-year review. I try to present them not as a model but as a point of reference so they can see how someone else did it.

What are some of the ways that you try to support others in the profession or that others have supported you? Add to the repertoire of academic kindness in the comments below! Interested in volunteering for the #humanehumanities P2P support network? Email the author to be added!

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Author: Justin Ritzinger

Justin R. Ritzinger is associate professor of religious studies at the University of Miami. His research focuses on modern Buddhism in China and Taiwan.

3 thoughts on “Toward a Repertoire of Academic Kindness”

  1. I have shared syllabi with graduate students and new teachers along with what I’ve found to be best practices for teaching online. Thank you for sharing this and giving us a great start!

  2. I try to dissipate the anxiety of student joining the team, from the very beginning. Therefore, I explain that our team will be accompanying the new student until he/ she feels confident. Meanwhile, and constantly, I will ensure the student get the skills and knowledge necessary to acquire autonomy. At the same time, I ask the student to play an active role, by preparing presentation to introduce him/herself, to ask questions. I insist on the benefits for a team of a fresh mind for novel perspectives. I also insist on reciprocity.

    Before anyone joins my team, I ask what he/her think are the key skills and values to perform scientific research in a team. This opens a discussion where I bring forward that the behavioural values, kindness, trust, cooperation, positive thinking come first, before scientific knowledge. As without these behaviours, a team can’t function properly. I also spend time to explain the advantage of working as a team. This citation summarises very well the message I give: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. “
    In summary, with years, I have made it more and more formal to present to anyone joining the team the behaviour values that are core to my team. I spend a lot of time to explain these values and discuss them regularly and as much as scientific results.

    Some organisational details that I found make big changes:
    Our weekly meetings are held around a round table instead of in a large meeting room. This makes people more confident to talk and thus to feel part of the group. At each meeting, someone different is in charge of the roles of chairing the meeting / taking notes and summarise the meeting main points. This makes everyone on an equal level and stimulates each one to be engaged.

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