have you been unfairly accepted?
i was talking with colleagues last night about academic egos. you know the conversation -- stuff like, "department X had to widen the doors to make room for all the big heads." i tend to see symmetry in the world, so i formulated two aggregate-level hypotheses about our profession:
- for every underrated scholar, there must be a countervailing scholar who is overrated to the same degree.
- for every manuscript that is unfairly rejected, there must be a countervailing manuscript that is unfairly accepted.
i wouldn't deny the influence of any of these factors. at the same time, however, we often fail to see how our privilege gives us unfair advantages. so, i might grouse about criminologists not getting enough play in the top sociology journals (not fair!), but i'd likely fail to mention that my graduating from an elite department gives me certain compensating advantages (not fair?). of course, one could also argue that all sociologists or criminologists are underrated (or overrated) based on our invaluable (or worthless) contributions to society, but that's a different point.
within our disciplines, there is a clear career and life course arc to over- and underratedness. many academics, i'd guess, are underrated in their early careers. i remember reading an interview with a wise guitarist who did a lot of session work. his four-stage career sketch would seem to fit any reputation-based profession:
- STAGE I. Who is Chris Uggen?
- STAGE II. Get me Chris Uggen!
- STAGE III. Get me a young Chris Uggen!
- STAGE IV. Who is Chris Uggen?
in my experience, the healthiest academics recognize the structural inequalities in the system but don't get eaten up by them. that is, they seem comfortable with themselves and their work regardless of external validation. moreover, they tend not to make invidious comparisons with other scholars (e.g., i can't believe she got the job or how could they publish that?). of course, they take their work seriously and know that external validation will offer opportunities to do more of it, often for a wider audience. they often employ their professional resources to challenge structural inequities or help other scholars who have been unfairly rejected or underrated. still, they seem to greet the ups and downs of professional life with a bemused smile. maybe this is why, regardless of their over- or underratedness, their heads still fit through standard 30" x 80" interior doors.