How to practically make research solidarity “sustainable” in academic life?

I wanted to share a few thoughts at the end of such a long day, so why not using my own blog, precious life companion, after months!

This evening I wonder about how I can make generous exchanges and research solidarity sustainable, when we are extremely busy with many other tasks and deadlines. Shall I give up about sharing research experiences, methodological and epistemological reflections, and providing research advice, in a sector which does not value all of this unless it is not officially acknowledged as advisory, supervision, or alike?

As a student and a postdoctoral researcher, I used to heavily criticise academics who were not responding to emails and were not even curious about students knocking on their virtual door. I am sure this is not an issue exclusively concerning the UK, as I worked in Australia, Italy, Egypt, Lebanon, the UAE, and Turkey, and academics are likely to be arrogant and/or self-obsessed assholes anywhere. I could barely imagine that some of them, apart from being assholes, were also trying to protect their lives. And this comes at the price of prioritising what you are obliged to do in your official position. Instead, there is no single mention of research solidarity in any ethical standards undergirding academic excellence, institutional citizenship, or any form of seniorship. This contributes to depicting generous researchers, eager to help and believing in a different global academic community, as exploited idiots.

But many are the researchers, undergrad and postgrad students, local and international, senior and junior colleagues, who have contacted me over the years to have that kind of chat. I would never condemn them for reaching out. Many people do, limitedly approaching such conversations as a mere attempt to extract contacts, ideas and knowledge. Especially friends and colleagues from over-researched areas have some grounded fears that these requests are only attempts of exploitation. In my personal experience, I did not live such encounters as mere extraction, but when you are left with so much to deal with after these long meetings (such as backlogs and exhaustion), and you will not get any official recognition for this but the “glory of being generous”, you do start wondering how you can uphold your genuine desire to support others in their research.

My academic institution, for instance, does not care about me mentoring around “for free”, and there is no way I can claim that time of mine back.

So, shall I give up values such as solidarity and support, and conform to the assholeness based on non-replies, which I have always battled against convincingly? Or should I claim some officiality in such encounters (e.g., joining someone’s supervisory board), which can surely sound weird and neoliberally career-focused, with the risk of not conveying the disinterested solidarity I intended to commit to?

To those who believe such questions are silly, you may be one of those assholes. To me, keeping research humane means spelling out such challenges and sharing the frustration of not finding practical and sustainable solutions to them.

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