To me, one of the weirdest aspect of being a clinician academic is regularly feeling that someone seems to want to chop my head off, without me clearly knowing why.
I mean, I get it if I seriously wrong someone and they acquire a desire to kill me. That is entirely fair. It might not be sensible (my understanding is that hating someone ultimately eats you inside) but I can totally see it. Someone did something nasty to you, and now you hate them because you can’t figure another way around it. Yes, I can relate to that. I’m not endorsing it, but I’ve been there enough times to recognise it.
I am more baffled by the situations when someone has hardly met me and they already seem to want to eat me for breakfast… Where (in my view) I have not even had a chance to do anything nasty to them (even if I wanted to – and I don’t usually even want to!).
I’ve had a couple of these situations recently. E.g., I met someone for the first time, for an informal coffee. I thought we were just going to chat and get to know one another. I was hoping we could maybe advance common goals, help one another out – if not, fair enough, worth a chat anyway. But over that very first coffee that person tried to trip me over with some silly tricks, make me feel stupid by trying to catch me out about not knowing things (it didn’t work because in research you get used to not knowing things…). It seemed to me that the person had already decided I was an enemy, and their interaction appeared to aim to pierce holes in me.
Sometimes it’s quite tempting to explain this sort of situation by thinking that the other person might feel threatened, or be jealous. This also seems to be the most common explanation that others give me if I seek their thoughts on these situations. But I sort of find this explanation a bit dissatisfying. Even where I think it might be true, I still can’t quite accept it. I don’t know… Maybe I just find it a bit of a sad explanation. Or maybe I am naive, or just kind of cognitively distorted. I think “…but changing the world is just at our reach… if we just work together…” and I genuinely struggle to find it plausible that an individual’s insecurity could even enter the stage in such a big play as Changing the World. I think I have a blind spot for that part of the cast list.
So when I get dissatified with the feeling-threatened/being-jealous explanation, I’m often left with paranoia. I wonder if I actually have a really nasty reputation, and the people who seem to want to chop me up merely honestly reflect a wider desire. I hear others talking about this kind of thing too, about self-doubt and insecurity even in the face of substantially contradicting evidence. One of my (female) PhD supervisors said this is a particular thing to female academics. She said that even when you know you have good skills, and you know your work is good, and you know you are ethically on a good path… there is still a self-doubt. You say “maybe I’m good, but am I good enough?”. Ultimately, I pretty much always conclude that whether or not I am good enough (and liked or disliked) is unlikely to make someone want to dispose of me – I think most people don’t care that much one way or another. So, ultimately this leaves me baffled.
My experience tells me that most clinicians and clinician academics are in our line of business because we want to make a difference to patients. To me this means we are not in competition. We are definitely stronger together.
So why do we seek to eat one another?
Any thoughs and experience (either on eating or being eaten), please do comment below. No log-in required, you can sign with a fake name (e.g. “EatR”, or “BittenOnce”).