Acts of Kindness

Today I asked Twitter for examines of acts of generosity and/or kindness that they had experienced in academia.

The stories flooded in, and I look forward to hearing more of your tales of these moments among the usual narratives of academic life. I have collected them here.

The impulse behind these stories was familiar to me, yet the ingenious ways that people choose to help someone in need were lovely to read. Of course, serious action to tackle the precarious workplace would help alleviate some acute needs that were expressed. We should not have to need each other the way we do.

These small kindnesses were touching. Sometimes a friend cooks us a meal when that hourly paid contract won’t stretch, or sneakily gets a round in when they know we are choosing between staying for another and eating beans for a week. A mentor asks if we are ok when we’ve taken too much on, a friend offers exceptionally thoughtful feedback. They don’t do this for some craven reason of networking or getting ahead, and these acts of kindness happen every day in academia. That person who makes sure you’re getting home ok after a late night at a conference, or talks you through you first interview.

Here’s a few of my favourites:

We are socialised into thinking of academia as the Hunger Games due to the lack of permanent contracts and certain toxic environments encourage extreme competitive behaviour among doctoral students. This is counter-intuitive to both the modern academic workplace, with its emphasis on collaboration, and also any sort of well-being.

I have experienced regular, remarkable generosity from colleagues at every level at every institution. Anonymised, here are a few acts of kindness I will never forget:

  • A colleague who patiently explained medieval castle structure to me over tea and biscuits
  • A late stage PhD student friend who offered me amazingly helpful feedback despite being at the sharp end of a few deadlines
  • The senior academic who found the tail end of some project funding for me to work on between contracts
  • The mentor who offers a mix of astute feedback and a kick up the backside
  • Every colleague who has been kind to me on those days when I’ve been overwhelmed
  • The academic acquaintances who helped me with every stage of my move to Manchester and who have become firm friends
  • The lecturer, then supervisor, then friend, who has believed I had something to say since I was 19 and will still give good argument over a glass

What brought this home to me this week is draft of an article that I’m finishing. This has  benefitted from coffee shop chats with two certain friends, the questions of a seminar room full of thoughtful people who came out on a Friday night and the careful eye of three mates. All our work is collaboration and hopefully in our busy schedules, we’ll learn to take the time someone once made for us.