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Subverting Toxic Academic Norms

A toxic academic norm can be defined as an established but harmful practice or expectation in academia that negatively impacts people and progress. These resources provide examples of toxic academic norms and ways to disrupt them.

First, what is a "toxic academic norm"?

In it's first editorial, an open-access community journal, The Cuvette, defines a toxic academic norm as follows:

"... structures that 1) limit access to knowledge and 2) are generally accepted as standard practice."

Some examples of toxic academic norms include:

  • Excessive competition between academics due to limited resources and tenure requirements breeds hostility and unethical behavior.

  • Lack of work-life balance expectations, leading to burnout.

  • Abusive power dynamics between advisors and students or senior and junior faculty.

  • Lack of diversity and inclusion, creating non-inclusive environments.

  • Resistance to change and new ideas due to rigid hierarchies and conventions.

  • Publish or perish culture that prioritizes quantity over quality.


How can these toxic norms be disrupted or supplanted?

My ideas on how to address to toxic academic norms are ever evolving as I continue to educate myself and try new things. So far, I've found these strategies effective:

  • Fostering collaborative rather than competitive environments.

  • Advocating for work-life balance and wellness.

  • Establishing and enforcing codes of conduct.

  • Diversifying faculty and leadership.

  • Supporting bottom-up change and new perspectives.

  • Valuing quality and ethical research over quantity of publications.

  • Calling out and discouraging toxic behaviors when witnessed.

  • Creating transparent systems of accountability and mentorship.

It seems the key to promoting cultural or systemic changes can include open dialogue, policy reform, and grassroots advocacy to create healthier and more supportive academic environments. More than anything, it seems people have a hard time recognizing the harm of a norm until they have the opportunity to experience a healthier system.

You'll see a variety of content below that relates to subverting toxic academic norms. Feel free to reach out with any questions, comments, or challenges.


Discuss this topic further with other science educators in our online teaching community:
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