A lot of people try to become successful in the academic field, and unfortunately, their attempts are futile. Nowadays, to become a university professor, completing a PhD in physics, biology, chemistry, or any other field of study might not be enough.
Lately, there’s been quite a controversial statement going around — that the way to achieve success in academia is by developing upward toxicity. How did it start? What does upward toxicity actually mean, and why would it be a pass to success? That’s what we will be focusing on today, so if you wish to find out more, all you have to do is keep reading.
The Genesis of the Statement
It all started with an article written in 2019 by Irina Dumitrescu, titled ‘Ten rules for succeeding in academia through upward toxicity’ in which she tries to explain why toxicity is one of the necessary elements to achieve success in academia. According to her, universities prefer to hide their employee’s toxic behavior, even if it means that the school’s reputation will be at stake.
In the article, Dumitrescu lists ten rules that are supposedly going to help you succeed in academia. Here are some of them:
Rule no 2: Do nothing for anyone unimportant.
Rule nr 4: Crush the confidence of students with the potential to surpass you. Or sleep with them. Or both.
Rule nr 10: Lie brazenly. Accuse others of lying.
Doesn’t sound really academic, does it? It is actually a complete opposite of what a professor should be at a university — they should support you and your ideas, help you develop yourself, not terrorize you, and steal your ideas. Well, not according to Irina Dumitrescu.
She finished her article with an observation — while you might encounter people who will criticize you and your methods, they will be too afraid to say anything or share her article with the world.
Is There a Reasoning Behind the Statement?
While Irina Dumitrescu’s opinion might sound slightly ridiculous and exaggerated, there is some truth in that — or rather in the reasoning behind it.
Nowadays, landing a job as a professor can be quite challenging — after all, there are so many brilliant students that, with a little bit of experience, can be the next sensation of academia. Because of that, the fear of people already working in academia about being replaced is quite reasonable.
What’s more, as the days go by, the number of free positions decreases, while the number of people interested in it grows. In order to secure one, you really need to stand out in the crowd. This usually leads to the ‘publish or perish’ mentality. What is it exactly? ‘Publish or perish’ is an aphorism, and according to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, it’s “the idea that it is important for teachers in colleges and universities to publish books, etc. about their research, and that if they fail to do so, it will have a bad effect on their career.”
Now, you might be thinking — what does the ‘publish or perish’ mindset have to do with the upward toxicity on which Dumitrescu’s article is focused? Quite a lot actually — and even the author itself seems to confirm that.
As she writes in one of the paragraphs — “If you behave egregiously enough, you may even win the grand prize: paid leave from teaching, which you can use to publish more research, bolstering your reputation for genius.”
The more books and research papers you publish, the more authority you will gain. By displaying toxic behavior at university, you might have to take a paid leave, which will result in more time for conducting your research and publishing the results. While it might sound preposterous, there’s no denying that the reasoning behind this idea is quite genius.
What Do Other People Have to Say About Toxicity as a Way to Achieve Success?
Academia is not the only field in which people with toxic behavior seem to be better positioned. According to Irina Dumitrescu, “Upward toxicity can work in any industry, but it is particularly effective in a career with few escape routes.” Several studies seem to support this idea.
One of the interesting ones was published in “Harvard Business Review” in 2018. The author has surveyed 110 employees in Singapore, as well as their bosses. As it turned out, toxic people who successfully used political skill ( which as defined by the author, is “the ability to influence others, demonstrate social astuteness, and appear.
However, going back to academia, it is not uncommon to experience hostility or toxic behavior there — quite the contrary. As Inger Mewburn, better known as “The Thesis Whisperer” admitted in a quite popular post published back in 2013, titled “Academic Assholes and the Circle of Niceness” .
The Bottom Line
So, is upward toxicity really the way to achieve success in academia? Well, it definitely looks like it. Academia doesn’t hold a reputation for being kind — that is common knowledge. After all, it’s the knowledge that counts in this particular field — not kindness. Professors are ‘trained’ to be critical, and kindness is often viewed as the opposite.
However, is it the best way of achieving success, or is there something else you can do as well to reach your goal? We’ll leave the decision up to you.