Emotions in Academia, Part 2: Happiness

If you are a regular reader of Dire Ed, you’ll know that I am deeply cynical and generally pessimistic about the sad state of affairs that is academia. There is so much to critique about the modern university (hence this web-zine), but how about we all put those critiques aside for now and focus, just for a moment or two, on what makes us happy as academics?

I’ll be honest. I love my job. In fact, there is so much to like about academia that it’s hard to know where to even begin. Among the myriad sources of happiness, the “usual suspects” are not even at the top of my list, for example, getting a paper published. Yeah, sure, it feels good, but it doesn’t feel great and, let’s face it, the feeling is short-lived. After about two or three minutes of satisfaction over a job well done, I recede back to my normal state of being. What’s more, as your academic career unfolds, each acceptance gives you less of a “high,” a bit like building up a tolerance to a drug.

Some colleagues might point to the flexibility of our job as a major plus. Don’t get me wrong. I like being able to take an hour off during the workday and go for a walk with my dog or even spend the afternoon at the beach lounging about. I enjoy being able to work in my pyjamas. But in light of COVID-19, we academics no longer have a monopoly over WFH, so maybe it’s not that special anymore.

Of course, I get enjoyment in seeing my students go on to bigger and better things. This is especially the case for my Ph.D. students. It is a pleasure to see them bud into inquisitive, ambitious, and motivated young scientists. I guess you could say that I experience their successes (e.g., first milestone achieved, first conference presentation, first peer reviewed article) vicariously.

These are all perks of being an academic. But do you want to know what truly gives me happiness in my work and career? It’s the friendships I’ve made throughout my journey. I have felt, variously, nurtured, supported, protected, and valued by my friends and colleagues. They have taken me under their wings and inspired me to be like them. They have made me laugh when I needed to laugh, even at myself. They have enriched my understanding, not only of my own field of study, but also of theirs. They have reached out when they know, or at least feel, that I am suffering (and Lord knows I’ve had my fair share of that).

“I have felt, variously, nurtured, supported, protected, and valued by my friends and colleagues. They have taken me under their wings and inspired me to be like them.”

Happiness stems of gratitude. So, let me tell you what I’m grateful for. I am grateful for the wonderful colleagues I have at RMIT, where I currently work. People like Johanna Macneil inspire me to be the best I can be. I am grateful for so many past colleagues, decent souls like Rajiv Amarnani, Michael Gillan, Ramon Rico, David Fan, Alina Baluch, Martin Dowling, Paul Hibbert, Fang Lee Cooke, Miguel Martinez Lucio, Leo McCann, and Damian O’Doherty, among others. I am grateful for people like Chris Baumann, Paul Gollan, Adrian Wilkinson, Tony Dundon, Michael French, Amir Karton, Alim Baluch, and all the other folks who’ve been good to me throughout the years (you know who you are). I know these people and they are good, through and through.

Yes, friends, in spite of its shortcomings—and there are many—academia can bring a smile to your face. Well, it’s not really academia itself that makes us smile, but rather the meaningful relationships we form with friends along the way.

Professor Andrew R. Timming

This article is published under a Creative Commons 4.0 License.

One thought on “Emotions in Academia, Part 2: Happiness

  1. I always question whether or not positive emotions in academia outweigh the negative ones, such as sadness, anxiety, and stress emanating from workloads and other expectations.


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