Gifts in Academia

A few days ago I listened to a seminar on how to “decode” the Swedish labour market. The seminar was for PhD students at Uppsala University. Although I was (almost) born and raised in Sweden I thought it was an interesting topic and wanted to hear what the experts had to say. Unfortunately, I missed the first half of the seminar but I was lucky enough to enter the seminar right before Brian Palmer starts talking about the concept of immaterial gifts. Brian Palmer is “a social anthropologist and public speaker. He wrote a PhD dissertation based on ethnographic research in Sweden “Wolves at the Door: Existential Solidarity in a Globalizing Sweden”.

Palmer explained that there are four types of gifts that are highly valued in the academia.

  1. Taking time to read your colleague’s manuscript and to give constructive feedback.
  2. Sending articles to your colleague that are relevant for their research or that you think they will appreciate. Palmer says he particularly likes receiving paper articles instead of digital articles, preferably with a small note attached to it.
  3. At conferences, introduce your colleague to other people. Help them expand their contact network.
  4. Refer journalists, researchers and other investigators to your colleague’s work, alternatively provide your colleague’s contact details to the investigator. This does not mean that you have to contact different people to promote your colleague’s work, but to think about them if you ever are in a situation where investigators are looking for experts to interview. This could, for example, be that they are looking for experts to include in a panel.

What these gifts have in common is that no money in the world can buy you these gifts, only the goodwill of your colleagues and friends will do. I thought these four gifts make a perfect illustration of how dependent we are of each other to thrive and succeed in the academia. People with a lot of contacts (usually senior researchers) have an incredible amount of power to influence the destiny of newcomers such as PhD students. I think this is an important aspect to keep in mind and to discuss continuously with people around you, particularly your supervisors. Also, we need to reflect on what we do with our position of power. Who we choose to give these gifts to can have an immense impact on that person’s career. I hope that, by thinking about these four ways of interacting with colleagues as gift-giving moments, we can be more generous to each other 🙂 I wonder, is there anything else that is not on the list that you would like to add? Something to think about…


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