Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

THE Scholarly Web

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

THE Scholarly Web

Article excerpt

Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere.

"Do you get further in academia if you are a jerk?" asks Inger Mewburn, director of research training at the Australian National University, on her Thesis Whisperer blog (http://ow.ly/hGg7U).

After meeting friends and basking in the "circle of niceness" they provide, Dr Mewburn realised something. "All of us had a story or two to tell about academic colleagues who had been rude, dismissive, passive aggressive or even outright hostile ... in the workplace."

There could be a reason. Dr Mewburn points to research suggesting that negative or unkind people can be perceived as less likeable but more intelligent than those who express themselves in "gentler" ways.

"Cleverness is a form of currency in academia; or 'cultural capital' if you like," she says. "If other academics think you are clever they will listen to you more; you will be invited to speak at other institutions, to sit on panels and join important committees and boards."

Dr Mewburn considers some of the arguments proposed by Stanford University professor Robert Sutton in his book The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't (2010).

"He argues that it's easy for asshole behaviour to become normalised in the workplace because, most of the time, the assholes are not called to account. So it's possible that many academics are acting like assholes without even being aware of it."

Although she would "rather collaborate than compete" and doesn't like confrontation, Dr Mewburn admits she has "acted like a jerk in public . …

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