Dealing with professional jealousy

(18 Posts)
ooglyboo Thu 03-Jan-19 10:51:17

OK, so this does not paint me in the most attractive light. But I was wondering whether other people here struggle with professional jealousy? I am really bad at this (I think it's related to significant insecurity and perhaps a large but fragile ego)! But I do find myself fixating on peers ('competitors') who are out-pacing me. I have one at the moment who is essentially much better and more productive than me (eg: publishes more, wins more funding, etc.) and who is also ten years younger. I have/had a relatively high profile in a specific area (especially impact related) but lately I can see that his profile is really eclipsing mine. I realise in writing this that I sound AWFUL! And I know that I need to focus on my own career, not his. And that's a struggle because one of the reasons I am not more more productive is trying to balance this job with being a decent-ish mother and wife and I really find that an on-going challenge. That's perhaps another story but I just wondered if I am alone in struggling with this kind of thing at times?

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historyrocks Thu 03-Jan-19 18:29:05

I wouldn’t call it jealousy, but I do look at colleagues who are incredibly productive and make myself feel like shit for not managing to do as much as them. But none of them have children (I have 2), along with the fact I have a disability that hugely affects my cognitive functioning. Despite these things, I still feel embarrassed by my CV.

That’s probably not much help confused.

QueenRefusenik Thu 03-Jan-19 19:31:37

I have two Nemeses (Nemesises?!) in my field I'm constantly comparing myself to. Neither of them know. Infuriatingly, they're both lovely people: I am clearly not! I try not to let it get out of hand. Ultimately (and although one best me to a grant and one to a job, gah), it really isn't a zero sum game. Nothing wrong with a little healthy competition but do factor in the female-with-children thing. Plus if he's ten years younger is he doing the same amount of committees/meetings/admin/general scutwork that you are? Post-docs churn out papers at a rate of knots but that slows down as they shin up the greasy pole! Cut yourself some slack and harness his youthful energy (grr) positively - maybe write a grant proposal with him?!

ooglyboo Fri 04-Jan-19 14:23:55

Thanks for replying history and queen. It's good to know I am not entirely alone. I have always felt like a total imposter in this world but I have recently been struck by a massive problem with self-confidence. I don't even know why but it's almost paralysing. I am just writing my first ever book proposal and the voice in my head is very loud, asking why anyone would want to read this, who am I to think I could write a book, what if it's crap, and so on .... it's tiring!

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historyrocks Fri 04-Jan-19 14:43:13

One thing I’ve found talking with (nice) colleagues is that many suffer from imposter syndrome, including those who are doing better than me. I think many academics have to ‘put on a face’.

Part of why I struggle with confidence dates back to a previous HoD who tried to push me out of my job following maternity leave on the basis that having children means you’re no longer committed to the job. He said all this kind of crap in front of HR, who couldn’t care less. He was a nasty bully. Despite my colleagues sticking up for me, the whole experience still makes me question myself and my work.

ooglyboo Fri 04-Jan-19 14:49:29

That's awful History, I'm really sorry that's happened to you. I had some rough experiences earlier in my career and was basically told that I was intellectually inadequate by one very senior person and that had a big impact on me. I know I should have been more resilient but it's very hard and I slightly changed direction at that point, and started doing a lot more consultancy and impact related work. Also the kids were young and I just couldn't deal with the emotional demands academic work was making on me, alongside their emotional needs and my own. Now I want to turn back and start writing more instead but I have this weight of shame about my rather pitiful CV and as I say this debilitating imposter syndrome. It's SO uncomfortable. And feeds the nemesis thing. Trouble is I don't want to do any other job so I have to find a way to manage it all.

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bigkidsdidit Fri 04-Jan-19 19:42:34

I have this too, and the weight of shame about my publication gaps. It's really tiring. I wish I didn't feel this way. I am considering leaving academia in a few years - I am in a field with lots of exit possibilities - for this reason. Anyone looking at my website would think I was a high achiever, mind you, so it is at least partly in my head (and partly sharing an office with high achievers in the no 1 ranked department for our subject in Britain, according to the last ref)

SarahAndQuack Sun 06-Jan-19 17:26:58

I do get this, but much more often I have the nastier and more arrogant tendency to feel aggrieved by people I privately don't think are terribly wonderful doing better than me. Anyone else want to admit to that?!

I don't really mind when someone brilliant overtakes me. My first ever dissertation student whom I taught when I was a baby postdoc is fast outpacing me, and someone recently asked me if I felt upset, which I genuinely hadn't even imagined feeling!

OTOH I have a professional nemesis (great term queen) who secured a permanent job on the strength of a very slight publication record and very little teaching experience, and who has since then demonstrated a complete failure to follow through on publication plans and (awkwardly for me, as she was reporting to me even though I wasn't in a permanent post) she's also shown she has real issues with teaching. I find it quite difficult not to resent her!

And then there are the people (remarkably, so often young white males with posh accents and accommodating wives ...) who seem to get an awful long way by publishing middle-of-the-road papers with a great air of confidence in their own cutting-edge genius ...

ooglyboo Mon 07-Jan-19 10:26:55

I don't think that's worse Sarah. I think it's better. It is objectively especially annoying when not so great people do well! I am bitter about other people being better than me. That's worse - because they objectively deserve their success!

Nemesis is exactly the right word, I agree. I wonder how your nemesis feels? She sounds a bit like me - landed a pretty OK job but has published as well or as much as I should have (although in my case teaching is OK). Do you think she's possibly struggling with feelings of shame/is she aware that she hasn't lived up to expectations? Not trying to make you feel bad for thinking this at all, just interesting to consider.

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SarahAndQuack Mon 07-Jan-19 15:29:10


And, unfortunately, I'm pretty sure this person doesn't feel bad she hasn't lived up to expectations. I had to tick her off because she failed to provide appropriate supervision and then lied about various details of it to cover up, and I know from her responses there that she had a massively inflated opinion of both her skills and her experience. Which makes me feel, depressingly, that some people really do get jobs because they manage to sound so sincerely sure they deserve them.

Orchiddingme Thu 10-Jan-19 10:37:34

Try to think of your career as ebbing and flowing, but still going in the right direction. You can't floor it for 20-30 years! It's fine to have drier spells, and then you have better times. This is true even of the high fliers.

SarahAndQuack Thu 10-Jan-19 18:09:33


I can see you mean that nicely, but, um ... where on earth is it 'fine' to have drier spells? Have you seen the state of HE lately?

It's not remotely fine, is it?

Orchiddingme Fri 11-Jan-19 17:42:15

I work at a Russell Group university. Most of my colleagues have times where they haven't had great grant success all the time, or have a couple of years without publications, we are in social sciences, and then they have a good run of grants/publications from those. As long as it evens out over the REF cycle which is 7 years this is not necessarily a disaster.

This board doesn't always represent what I see around me at my institution. People aren't dropping like flies from the pressure, nor are they never going on holidays or working 80 hours weeks. A few high fliers who like living like this do work like that. The rest of us do our job and have good years and bad years.

What is clear is that women in particular, especially when a wife and mother, have difficulty juggling all of that not just because that's hard work but also because they have an acute sense of imposter syndrome as well as well-developed guilt syndrome and are sometimes held to higher standards than the men as well.

Constantly beating yourself up, making comparisons and making the job unenjoyable isn't a solution to this- you have to find a way to accept some people are simply working harder or even brighter/better at their job than you. I've found it fine to see academia as my job/career and accept that I'm not going to be a shining star, but a reasonably good teacher and researcher and do a good job for my students. It is part of the trick of academia that they persuade you that everyone else is an academic super-star and you should all be one too.

SarahAndQuack Fri 11-Jan-19 23:46:48

Well, like a large proportion of academics, I don't have a permanent job, so don't share your perspective.

Thanks, though, for suggesting that the problem cannot possibly be that there are very high demands, and just that 'some people are working harder or even better/brighter at their job than you'.

JC4PMPLZ Sat 12-Jan-19 10:49:40

Yep, in my middle ranking university, everyone is feeling the pinch. It is because we have to do more with less, more teaching, more marking, more grant applications, more taking on admin roles, more recruitment and open evenings, more covering for other staff on leave etc etc. Research gets squeezed out. I feel unbelievabaly envious of those who manage to bag a large grant. But then they moan about how much admin it takes to oversee a large grant....., not to menton how much time it takes to prepare an application for one...and so it goes on.
Not sure there are that many people who are just sailing through. Maybe the celeb academics, who wouldnt know what Moodle or VLE or KEF were if they jumped up and bit them.
However, who has seen the Goodwil Hunting report from USS. There are multiple withdrawals going on in certain areas. The good citizen model is waning. who picks up the pieces though?

Orchiddingme Sat 12-Jan-19 16:05:10

The OP says she has a pretty ok job and is ten years older than her 'nemesis' so I was guessing she/he was similarly positioned to myself- a permanent staff member who was finding younger up and coming junior colleagues a bit threatening.

If that's not the case and the OP's position is very different, my advice would be different. Career stage and permanency do indeed make a huge difference. You are right that drier spells are not possible if you don't have a permanent job, that's exactly the problem, there's no cushion there for the natural cycle of publications/grants. I didn't get that from the OP's post which is why I responded as the feeling you are crapper than everyone else even when you are on paper doing quite well is one that most of my colleagues (lecturer to professor) moan about a lot (all except the one or two hyper-successful ones). The ones who don't have permanent jobs have a whole other set of problems, lack of permanent jobs/inability to move if you have children/endless post-docs and some I know have got out of academia recently for this (or kind of fallen out).

I do believe there is more slack in the system for people with permanent lectureships, that's why getting one is valuable. It doesn't mean that you don't have to worry about performance, because you do at every stage because that's what promotion/probation is based on, but once you get beyond say lecturer stage, very very few people are managed out and there are quite a few lazy professors as well as stellar amazing ones.

SarahAndQuack Sun 13-Jan-19 19:04:37

I'm sorry, you're quite right and I'm being oversensitive.

I read that comment as a response to mine immediately preceding, which says unedifying things about my level of self-absorption. Sorry! blush

ooglyboo Mon 14-Jan-19 14:11:21

Hi all. Interesting discussion. I do not work at a RG university and would probably struggle to get a job in one at the moment. I am hoping that might change if I get a couple more decent papers out this REF cycle and manage to max-out my OK looking impact case study.

I am very lucky to have a permanent job though and (touch wood) it looks reasonably secure. And as Orchid suggests, personally I am not under massive external pressure. My professional jealousy is largely due to pressure I put on myself. I also recognise that if I were to get a job at an RG university or more prestigious research-led university, perhaps the external pressure from my employer would go up significantly and I guess I have to ask myself whether that is in fact what I want.

I do agree though with Orchid to some extent - as I say I do feel self-imposed pressure, and insecurity and shame, but I could not say that my employer is actively making that worse. In fact, I sometimes wonder what I am doing wrong when I hear about the intense pressures of academia because I am not experiencing them in quite that way!

At the weekend I read an interview in the Guardian with the LSE professor with the happiness book out at the moment and I was really struck by his total confidence that he was clever. (Did anyone else see that)? I would love to be able to say the same as I think I exercise quite a bit of self-sabotage in not pursuing certain opportunities (in case people discover that I'm actually a bit thick)! Anyway, I've got twenty years to go before I retire so maybe time to get over myself.

Sorry ... bit of a ramble.

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