Staying positive, despite the egos

June 1, 2019 -- Living City

Staying positive, despite the egos
Facing fights about academic authorship

I work as a scientist in the agriculture division of a university. Throughout my years pursuing a science degree, and now a science career in academia, I have always found it challenging to live the spirituality of unity, surrounded as I am by “skeptics” who question the existence of a God who is love.

In addition, I have colleagues whom a university faculty member aptly describes as “people who are rewarded for being egotistic,” given the competitive nature of publishing and getting grant money.

My experience has been a long journey of pruning, as I feel Jesus has been “training” me in patience and humility. I have changed research labs in order to avoid conflict, afraid that engaging in more interactions would make me become an unloving person.

But I continue to collaborate with some of these problematic ex-colleagues as we try to publish scientific papers on projects that we have worked on before.

In this last year, we worked on a paper that has been accepted for publication, but the process has been wrought with a lot of unprofessional asides in e-mail exchanges from this former colleague of mine. I had originally been tasked to write the manuscript as main author, but had to concede to having my name listed as “second” author, given that this ex-colleague refused to hand over the research data until he got first billing.

I had written the first draft of the manuscript, needing only the missing data to complete the story, but had to step back and hand it over to this colleague. What was important to me was to have the paper published, given that the findings would be important to the research community as a whole. I also understood that my former colleague has not published much and needs a paper to further his career.

In a particularly scathing e-mail response to my review of the manuscript, I had to pause and ask for strength from the Holy Spirit not to fire back an equally emotional reply. I prayed, “Help me to love in this moment; if I cannot say something nice, let me not say anything at all. When the time is right, you will tell me what to write.” Thus I managed to address his concerns professionally and objectively, thanks to the Holy Spirit who enlightened me with the right words.

The publishing process had been stalled a bit because this colleague, who has little experience in publishing and gets readily offended when offered advice, made several decisions that have irked the other authors. This in turn conveyed to the editorial staff the “disunity” among us authors.

I, however, continued to be supportive and encouraging, staying positive and professional throughout our e-mail exchanges and discussion forums, choosing to lose my ideas as long as the outcome was acceptable, if not as perfect as I had envisioned it to be.

I remember how Focolare founder Chiara Lubich was once quoted, “It is better to be imperfect in unity, than perfect in disunity.” It really worked because in the end, our manuscript was accepted and published.

M. S., Texas

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