News - July 19, 2016

Blog: Too hard to impress

Blogger Nadya Karimasari will reveal the secret of making a good impression in academia.

'How are you, Nadya? Have you been trying hard enough to impress everybody?' said Wolf, one of my supervisors from University of Melbourne, Australia. He recently visited Wageningen for a conference at de Wageningsche Berg. His snarky remark was, as usual, on point.

The syndrome of 'trying-too-hard-to-impress' can occur at every stage of the academic ladder. It can happen to both young, aspiring academics (a.k.a. PhD candidates) and senior professors.

The syndrome of 'trying-too-hard-to-impress' can occur at every stage of the academic ladder.

During the conference lunch, some PhD candidates reluctantly 'humble-brag' about their publication. 'Ah, this journal is very slow in their review process!' or 'That journal never got back to me but suddenly published my article on their special issue!'

One senior lecturer popped up in my office one day and talked about – what else could it be – publication. 'Finally I got a reply from a journal, about an article that I sent three years ago!' After complaining about how unserious the reviewers were, he said, 'I have to withdraw, of course!' Every occasion becomes an opportunity to tell about publication. It can be a paper that is actually published at an obscure low-rank journal that no one has ever heard of, a paper in review, or in the process of being written.

This is what we do. We write papers that nobody reads, and we think we are doing something important!

Getting the paper to be read and cited by other scholars is another, daunting problem. My colleague sarcastically advised me once, 'This is what we do. We sit down all day writing papers that nobody reads, and we think we are doing something important!'
Interestingly, those who are well-published, well-cited, and have a good reputation – at least in academia – seldom mention their publication. They don’t need to, and perhaps they’ve lost count of each paper that they’ve published anyway.

When I asked her how she met her husband, prof. Rosaleen Duffy from SOAS (London School of Oriental and African Studies), rightly pointed out our shared sentiments of this 'trying-too-hard-to-impress' syndrome. She said: 'We (she and her husband) were both new staffs at the university. We sat together at the registration desk and we managed not to talk about our work all day. Sometimes academics keep talking about their work and it gets boring. Sometimes we’re interested to know more about each other as a person.'

I totally agree with her, and with Wolf who made me take notice of this acute syndrome. As Wolf bid farewell he said, 'Skype you later! I have to pack and ... write a paper!' Same here, Wolf, I also have to write a ... blog.