On boasting as an academic

I value humility. I'm not sure if it's a cultural thing, but I really like and respect the humble person. I like to think we all have similar anxieties and ambitions, we put our pants on one leg at a time, and we all read our smartphones while in the bathroom, etc. At the same time, I know I work with and around amazing people - amazing in the sense that they solve hard puzzles and ask fascinating questions or are so passionate about something that they go out and try to make things happen that make life better for people or other beings. In many ways, I am in such an amazing line of work to know and be inspired by these people.

At the same time, these people (and for now, I'm talking about academics), have an incentive to brag and boast. We are supposed to communicate value to our institutions and impress our colleagues and our students. It's part of the game. Being an academic is likened to being an entrepeneur - build a brand, make strategic partnerships, try to get investments, get key staff, and sell, sell, sell, sell. So we have to boast to make those things happen right?

I've been amazingly fortunate to have received some distinctions and awards in the past. I really do not know how to respond to them besides say 'thanks' uncomfortably after I hear congratulations. Frankly, it even makes me a bit uncomfortable to write those words, and I'm really not trying to #humblebrag. But I have noticed on social media things that look like flat out boasting, and I don't care for it. When Facebook releases its dislike button, I'm not going to click on it. I'll probably click like because I'm happy that someone got some nice recognition - that's great and I want to be supportive. But at the same time, I'd rather discover it accidentally and in person, slap them on the back and buy them a drink and comfortably embarrass them about being awesome.

So is boasting okay? In front of me? I think it's fine to boast that a grant got funded or a paper is accepted or finally published. Why? Those are collective challenges we all face, so we like to see one of our own succeed. We know the gauntlet that we must all run. It gives me hope to see someone make it on the other side. However, I don't really care to see other distinctions self-promoted. Exception: I think it's fine if it gets posted by someone other than the recipient - often universities use these as bragging things for alumni and such, and that ends up being in the public domain - so what happens to that is what happens to that. I think boasting about some touching thing that happened, like a student being so grateful that they leave a note that says you changed their life and their life direction in the best way possible is fine too. That is nice because it gives us something to aspire to and also reminds us of some of the good things we try to do and how we can have an impact.

That's just me. Maybe I am not meant for PR, although I do get asked to do PR things a lot. Maybe this is just my internal backlash to knowing what you have to do in academic PR. Or I'm just a really odd duck.

Quack.