Distinction of kindness

“We are all smart – distinguish yourself by being kind”

Anne Galloway

In between my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees I worked in the finance industry for 8 years. But a passionate curiosity for maths, music and the brain lured me back (after all, life is too short to spend your days doing something you don’t find meaningful.)

However the lessons I learnt in industry about dealing with frustration and disappointment seem even more relevant to people in academia, where failure and set-backs are inevitably part of life.

So here are four ways I’ve learnt to “do” kindness, that particularly apply in this foreign world of academia:

1. Keep a folder for warm fuzzies

kindnesskids

Set up a folder in your email / computer and include anything from colleagues, clients or stakeholders that encourages you; like when your supervisor praises your work, or a senior department member thanks you for your contribution or gives you some positive feedback.

Sometimes when you are having one of “those” days, just a look in the folder, and brief reminder of some kind words from others, is enough to get you back on track.

2. Celebrate other people’s success (particularly on social media)

There is pressure in academia to promote both yourself and your work. In order to win grants you need to say sell how its not only the right time or the right project, but particularly why you are the right person for the job. But this kind of “talking yourself up” comes so unnaturally for many of us.

kindness

What comes more naturally, at least for me, is to celebrate someone else’s success. And this is so easy to do with twitter!

a) Someone you know recently received an award or got some media coverage? Why not congratulate them on twitter (with link to award / coverage and their handle). It then makes it easy for them to re-tweet and let their followers know, but without them having to blow their own trumpet all the time.

b) Read a paper you liked recently? Why not mention why you liked it, include the link to the paper, and try to connect with the author on twitter. In this way you are not only connecting your followers with a great paper; you are making a potential connection with the author (something that would be more difficult to do without social media)

c) Attend an interesting talk or poster presentation? Why not connect with the author on twitter and let them know what you liked about it or why it was interesting. This helps promote their work (and is really all part of making friends, i.e. networking)

3. Provide honest feedback – kindly

Been thinking about this a lot recently, prompted by a discussion that Prof Sophie Scott began this week:

If someone requests feedback from you (be it wanting to practice a presentation, or read a draft, or even formally reviewing a paper) it is unkind (and unhelpful) to simply be “nice” and not be honest.

Especially if feedback has been requested, we need to provide an honest assessment of the work and in kindness, make our assessment; pointing out both the good and the bad.

Academia (and particularly that Reviewer Number 3) is notorious for harsh and crushing rejections (see Academic Pain). But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Academic Kindness is a great example of spreading a more positive story; providing evidence that kindness can and does exist in academia – and it can start with you!

4. Random acts of kindness

Since increased morale can mean boosted productivity, the company I worked for once celebrated a “Random Acts of Kindness Week”. Everyone (~50 people, across the country) was randomly given the name of another employee and it was your job to show intentional kindness to them that week. There were chocolates, flowers, coffees, letters of appreciation; some people even offered to do other’s menial tasks. The vibe in the office lifted enormously.

People began to see that being kind benefits not only the recipient, but the giver as well.

For more kindness ideas check out: Random Acts of Kindness Org

payitforward2

I’ve seen a similar sort of thing in my university’s One Act movement where a kind deed is done, and a postcard left to inspire the recipient to pay it forward and do a kind deed for another (and share stories using #mqoneact to inspire others).

So how can you distinguish yourself by being kind today?

It doesn’t have to be costly or time consuming – it could simply be giving a quick shoutout to another’s work / recent success; or providing honest feedback on a talk you attended. Just think, perhaps your email or tweet will make it into the recipients warm fuzzy folder; to be read and re-read when in need of some extra encouragement.

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