A Call for Humility and Transparency on #AcademicTwitter
There are no words to describe the feeling of worthlessness that accompanies hearing about your peers’ awards, accolades, accomplishments, and achievements when you feel you have none of your own.
Working as a scientist in academia can be challenging work. Scientific discovery is difficult without adding the various administrative tasks, teaching responsibilities, and miscellaneous assignments that comprise the whole of being a faculty member. The stress can be unbearable at times, leading to burnout and negative physical and mental health outcomes. Despite these challenges, academia can provide a rewarding career for those who are well suited to it. I cannot think of another profession that I would prefer to have. When you succeed in academic research, you can advance the state of knowledge in your field, benefit the participants served by your work, and receive individual accolades. Social media makes it very easy to lament the challenges and share one’s successes. Unfortunately, it’s hard to illuminate the grind and resiliency required to achieve those successes. Few people want to hear about hours spent reading the literature, writing manuscripts and grant applications, and the innumerable rejections. Rejection isn’t very “like” -able. The social desirability of sharing success has regrettably caused a new potentially harmful phenomena, where a consumer of academic Twitter can easily cultivate a feed of manuscript acceptances, publications, and the ubiquitous Notice of Grant Award. It can be easy to feel that everyone is succeeding except you.
I joined the academy as an undergraduate student in 1991, later matriculating as a graduate student in 1996, a post-doc in 2003, and as a faculty member in 2004. As a first-generation college student, I have never felt as if I was as accomplished as my peers. Not once. As the years have passed, I’ve gained an appreciation for my career and my accomplishments. But I have never forgotten what it felt like to be a first-year graduate student, unaccomplished post-doc, or a junior faculty member. There are no words to describe the feeling of worthlessness that accompanies hearing about your peers’ awards, accolades, accomplishments, and achievements when you feel you have none of your own. And these periods (for me) predated Twitter. Flash forward to today, and it’s almost impossible to scroll through academic Twitter without being inundated with the achievements of our peers. Again, it can be easy to feel that everyone is succeeding except you.
At this point, you might find yourself wondering what we can do. It’s not wrong to want to bring attention to your accomplishments. We all work very hard at our jobs and taking a victory lap on social media feels good. It can’t all just be the grind. That said, a strong argument can be made for transparency and humility. By transparency, I simply propose that we normalize failure and acknowledge the enormous amounts of work that success requires. For example, context can be important when sharing success. A Notice of Grant Award posted without context can easily lead a discouraged colleague to assume that success is a trait rather than a transient state. How about all those applications that weren’t funded? How many of those preceded the successful application? When you have an article published in a peer-reviewed journal, how many attempts did it take? How many rejections did it take to get to an acceptance letter? Please share those too. Finally, remember that not every achievement needs to be shared. Much like your food on Instagram, if you don’t post a picture, it still happened. Those of us who have successes and setbacks have a responsibility to share both. I’ll begin: I conservatively estimate that I have received more than 200 manuscript rejections in my career. Please keep that in mind the next time I’m fortunate enough to have an article published and share it on Twitter.
Justin B. Moore, PhD, MS, FACSM, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Implementation Science in the Division of Public Health Sciences in the Wake Forest School of Medicine at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC, USA. He conducts community-engaged research focused on the dissemination and implementation of evidence-based strategies for the promotion of healthy eating and physical activity. He is the Associate Editor for the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice and the Associate Editor-in-Chief of the Translational Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. Dr. Moore is an active member of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Public Health Association (APHA). He was named a fellow in the ACSM in 2010 and was a founding member of the Physical Activity Section of the APHA. He later served as the chair of the Physical Activity Section and as the Section’s representative on the APHA Governing Council. In addition to his leadership at the national, state, and local levels, he has published more than 170 peer-reviewed articles and has received funding for his research from the National Institutes of Health, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the de Beaumont Foundation, among others.
Dr. Moore is a graduate of Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi (BS), the University of Mississippi (MS), and the University of Texas at Austin (PhD). He also holds a certificate of competencies in Epidemiology from the University of Michigan School of Public Health.
Follow him at Twitter and Instagram.
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