By Jenni Rose
Having just come from the Flourishing in Academia course run by CABA and the ICAEW has made me reflect on what flourishing really means in the life of an academic.
The term “Flourish” comes from Martin Seligman’s book in 2011 on a new theory of positive psychology and has five elements from the PERMA model.
Positive emotion – feeling good
Engagement – being in a state of flow
Relationships – truly connecting to others
Meaning – being part of something bigger
Accomplishments – Achieving marked successes.
On the course we discussed how a life in academia can satisfy these. This life, and yes I do consider it a life rather than a job or even a career, can be filled with clear moments of positive emotions to be cherished; grateful students, helpful colleagues and being able to leave early to make the most of a sunny day. Yes there are absolutely negative emotions, frustration probably being the main one, but training yourself to spot and take in the good helps you overcome the 5:1 negativity bias discussed by Rick Hanson in his famous ted talk on Hardwiring Happiness https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jpuDyGgIeh0 .
Academia definitely gives you the opportunities to get into flow, communicating your passion in lectures, absorbing yourself in research and being so immersed in a task that you don’t notice time passing. It’s also fantastic that time is so flexible in academia – I can often find myself in flow if I wake at 5am with great ideas, but then I’ll definitely be needing to rest by the early afternoon!
The academic community is unique and frequently amazing in its support and collaboration. Recently I was conducting research into efficient teaching excellence and was asking excellent teachers about their styles and methods. Most were happy to share their thoughts and even guided me on where I should focus my research to really understand excellent teaching, one however was worried about giving away ‘trade secrets’. She was a freelance teacher rather than an academic and this, for me, really summarises the openness of academic collegiality.
It’s this community which can enable an individual academic to feel part of something bigger, not just your University but also your connection to other academia. It strikes me as strange, having moved from the private sector, that academics from different Universities will talk about themselves as “colleagues”, when really they are competitors! Beyond that there are so many conference communities and online communities where we can connect globally.
Finally in terms of accomplishments there are many decisive markers in an academic career to be celebrated; awards, feedback for teaching and of course that holy grail of getting your work published.
Overall I feel that the conditions are present to allow feelings of flourishing through living a life as an Academic, if we continue to focus on the taking in the good and recognising and dissipating frustrations. The pace of academia, as applauded by Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber in their book “The Slow Professor”, gives us the time to make the most of our skills and experience and gives the environment to flourish in our lives.