Future Professors Programme

by Admin

What we did not teach you on the Future Professors Program

Speech at the graduation of two cohorts of ‘future professors’ from the 26 public universities in South Africa

Skukuza, 1 March 2024

  1. We did not teach you about academic jealousy.

You are at the point in your career where your achievements stand out so much so that they separate you from your peers. People notice. Many will be glad with you. Others will resent you. You will be the subject of snide comments and sometimes vicious attacks. Behind your back of course, but you get to hear about them. How could you best deal with these very human reactions? One, stay focused on the task before you. Unyielding and unswerving. Do not stew. Do not try to correct every naysayer. It comes with the territory. Stay focused. Two, do even more and better, motivated by the criticism. That of course will drive your critics nuts; that is their problem, not yours. Three, praise your critics for what they achieve even if they do not recognize your own achievements. Be the better person. Keep your conscience clear. Make much of those who make little of you.

  • We did not teach you about researcher humility.

As you rise, do not let your successes go to your head. Keep reminding yourself that you did not get here by yourself. Do not forget that you too were once a nervous, uncertain and even fragile young academic. Treat the novice researchers around you with that memory in mind. And work with this maxim: that you know you have arrived when your mentees (postdocs, research fellows, lecturers) are better than you; not better in a moral sense, of course, but better in that they can see further than you, do more things than you, and most importantly, become their own persons.

  • We did not teach you about scholarly generosity.

When you live and work in a developing country, your science is not your own and your scholarship works (or should work) for the benefit of others. Whether you do blue skies research or work in the applied sciences, your duty is to improve the human condition. That might mean, as an astronomer, giving working class children access to powerful telescopes to witness the marvel of our universe or as a historian, demonstrating to students trying to make sense of Reitz at the Free State then, or Wilgenhof at Stellenbosch now, the power of a present past or in the words of William Faulkner’s famous dictum, that the past is not dead, it is not even past. Be generous, therefore, in sharing your knowledge not only with scientists and scholars but with communities on the margins of society. In this respect, do not simply give of your resources, intellectual or material; that is relatively straightforward. Learn also to give of yourself.

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