• Otávio Santiago

Scientists, avoid workplaces that don’t value you

Many scientists and academics have been in the unfortunate position of weighing whether to work for an organization that doesn’t truly value what they bring to the table. An especially egregious and public example occurred in 2021, when journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones announced she was not taking a faculty job at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her initial offer did not include tenure, unlike everyone else who had been given the exact same position before her.

After the details of Hannah-Jones’s situation hit the media, the university relented. But the scholar, a recipient of a MacArthur fellowship (otherwise known as the “genius grant”), chose a different path. Instead of going to a university that did not value her, she found another organization that did: Howard University was more than happy to extend an appropriate offer of tenure, so she took her talents, knowledge, and expertise there.

Her friend, journalist Yamiche Alcindor, wrote on Twitter: “Go where you are embraced, celebrated, valued and supported. Go where you don’t have to fight for people to see your brilliance. And, avoid spaces if they barely tolerate you, even if they’re familiar and beloved.”

It’s an important message to hear because you may pine to work in a particular lab or be tempted to take a job that will add prestige to your CV, thinking that is your route to success. But if you end up in a situation where you’re devalued, it’s often not worth it because you’ll end up unhappy and unproductive, and more importantly, it will take a toll on your well-being.

I once encountered major red flags during a job interview. Every question the interviewer asked evoked in me a sense of anger and irritation, because every question degraded and devalued my expertise. He acted as though I wasn’t cut out for the job, even though I had 20 years of knowledge, skills, and networks that proved otherwise. The more I pushed to convince him of my professional qualifications, the more I felt minimized.

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