Serving Others as a Scholar

by Anna Blanch on November 18, 2010

What does it mean to serve others as a scholar?

Is it an attitude of generosity? How do we view copyright in terms of other people appropriating our ideas/concepts/syllabi as their own? How do we deal with the idea of being “scooped,” or of sharing links to grants, conferences, or jobs that we want to apply for also?

From all sides I hear about how bad the market is at the moment – especially in the US and news of future cuts in the UK don’t seem t indicate it’s going to get better any time soon – but does this mean that I should begrudge my colleagues, many of whom I believe I can also call friends, their success?

I choose to be unashamedly happy for the successes of my colleagues. I enjoy celebrating with them and for them as they have conference papers, journal articles, and book proposals and monograph manuscripts accepted for publication Not more or less than I rejoice with them over the births of their children, marriages, and any other joy they have in their lives. I’ve never seen the point in seeking to compete with those around me, rather by our collective successes and critiques I’ve experienced the kind of scholarly communities where one is spurred on towards writing better, and doing scholarship well.

So what does it mean to serve others as a scholar? I think it means taking note of articles, chapters or other research material when you have that “oh, Y would really love to know about this?” or “I wonder if S has seen this” and drop them an email – it takes less than 2 minutes. I think it means contributing positively to the kind of scholarly community where people will gladly read abstracts or sections of your work because they know you will be generous with your own time in response – I am extremely fortunate to be part of one of these. I’m excited for former Graduate School colleagues now in tenure track jobs running conferences, publishing articles, and presenting papers at peak international conferences. Their wisdom and experience is invaluable to me as i work towards finishing my own doctoral thesis.

Ultimately, the success of my colleagues helps me. Strange as it is, the more those around me are successful, especially those who sat next to me in graduate seminars, the better the reputation of the programs I received my degrees from will be. This kind of knock-on effect makes one person’s success good for everyone. It won’t get you a job, but it might be one extra thing that prevents you from getting cut from the first round during your job search.

By the way, a competitive, high quality graduate school program does not inevitably have to a program in which people back stab each other. That is not pleasant and if you get hints of that when you’re looking for a grad program, i’d suggest that it’s really not worth it. I’ve been part of some very competitive programs, but if you recognise that noone is writing on exactly the same thing from the same angle you’ll realise that you’re better off helping and supporting one another – that way everyone does well – and i’m fortunate that those are the kind of communities I’ve been apart of. Also, the bell curve pretty much goes out the window in most Grad school contexts (except Law and Medicine) so the competitiveness that results in juvenile pettiness is false economy.

Besides, my world is much brighter in my joy in their success than it would be if i begrudged it. I do not need anyone else I know to fail in order for me to develop as a scholar in my field. I’m a little idealistic like that, I really do believe that if I learn my craft well, put in the hard work, and write really good scholarship that is relevant to the debates in the field and helping to forge new directions, then I too will find my niche.

I do have one final question though, and it’s a question to continue to ponder:

Do we perceive of our education as gifts to be given in the 
same way that we consider material objects.

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