I came across this tweet a few minutes ago, and it got me thinking about how much of academia is gatekept by unwritten rules and rituals. Are there any good resources out there documenting such rules for outsiders? If not, this seems like a worthy task to attempt for anyone with such knowledge.

Are there any aspects of academia or of doing original research that you would not have known about if you had only learned through textbooks? With my current position of learning exclusively at home without a mentor, I worry that I may be missing many of these unwritten rules, and don't know how much of a disadvantage this places me at.

New Answer
Ask Related Question
New Comment

1 Answers sorted by

Aspects of academia differ between different areas of academia. 

Larry McEnerney gives a tip about how to decode how academics in a given field express that writing is valuable. Regularly go through papers of the field and underline all words that seem to signal value. Make lists of those words. 

His talk is also good because it illustrates what academia is about: Solving problems of interest to other academics in a scientific field or solving problems someone else is paying to solve. 

If you are an outsider you have the freedom to care about different problems. 

In hard science textbooks are a secondary source. Plenty of textbooks don't tell you about how the textbook knows what it knows in depth. You get that from reading the underlying papers. 

2 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 9:25 AM

Given that the rules partially exist to keep outsiders with guidebooks from barging in and ruining the party, probably not very good ones. I guess someone might write a somewhat tongue in cheek anthropology book like Kate Fox's Watching the English, but that would require a sort of relaxed attitude to absorb and reading it with a rigid "I must obey the precepts to succeed" mindset probably wouldn't end well. Productively learning stuff of this sort from books instead of social immersion is it's own kind of extra hard mode whose nature is very rarely explicated because book-learning unwritten rules is taboo.

What's your general career plan here? If you just want to learn academic results and apply them by eg. becoming a data scientist (not an actual scientist, you can tell because there's "scientist" in the name), you should be fine. Basically anything up to a master's degree and going off to work in industry and you can be completely oblivious. Are you planning on going into something like math where you can basically be a crazy hermit and still do groundbreaking stuff? Again, you can just go do you. The point where you really need to know the local culture is if you're trying to build a regular academic career where you are employed as a researcher in an academic institution, are publishing frequently in peer-reviewed journals and are trying to get on a tenure track for professorship. So, is this specifically what you're after?

Fully agreed, especially about the point that much of the unwritten rules are only applicable to the unwritten success criteria of various academic careers, especially where those career goals diverge a bit from pure truth-seeking and/or objective formal results of knowledge.