I have been off from teaching classes for the last couple of weeks, so this has given me time to work on research, conference presentations (I have four coming up in two different states and two different countries), and prepping for projects and classes for the fall. However, it has also given me time to catch up on shows my students, friends, and family members have recommended to me to see as soon as I have free time. :)

One of these shows of course has been the HBO hit Game of Thrones. This show is finishing its third season and the books go up to five (so far) – but there are some interesting themes that emerge from the series. One in particular is the issue of power – how it makes people do whatever is necessary to get it and can be almost corruptive in nature.

When thinking about this very issue, I saw this article talking about how brands can be looked at from this standpoint as well from the Game of Thrones perspective. After seeing this, it raised an interesting question – can we look at academia the same way? Are we searching for power and are there the same elements emerging in our field as in this book and TV series?

Interesting question – and I would have to say that the answer is indeed yes. Here are five ways academia is like the Game of Thrones:

  • Rise of Power for Academic families:  Like in Game of Thrones, there are “academic families” that have dominated or are strongly present in the field. There are successions and quote “academic offspring” that are supposed to follow the line and duties from the previous research and so forth. However, if you do not have an academic family, you are technically looked down on, which is unfortunate and not fair. Look at what happened with John Snow in the book and series.
  • A huge focus on where you came from: This is not necessarily based on location, but this really does focus on your academic institution. This does have a judging impact on the overall perception and reputation of an academic professional – and it is almost something that embodies the overall identity of the researcher. However, shouldn’t the work and personality of the person dictate how they should be perceived? You almost have to introduce yourself as not necessarily I am so and so, son of x, lord of xyz, etc – but you do have to introduce yourself with your position and where you are from.
  • Gatekeepers role in power: I see this all the time in academia – the gatekeepers that position themselves to decide who gets published, who presents their research or gets a position on a specific committee, and other activities that are not necessarily judged based on the work presented. The same goes with the Game of Thrones – this is a powerful message to say that life is not fair, but you have to be able to handle the deck of cards you are dealt with and strategize how to get around the gatekeepers. Sometimes it is tough, but it can be accomplished, even in academia. Everyone wants to be on the “iron throne” or the position of being a changer in the particular field they are in.
  • Growing need to formulate your own “teams” and alliances: The world for Game of Thrones characters is a tough place to be in, so they have to formulate teams to help them accomplish their goals and objectives.  Alliances have to be made, so you are seeing this with the Starks and the Lannisters in the series and book. Same in academia – there are going to be those that will do whatever possible to see your work not get published and there will be others that will help you and support you. Find these similar professionals and collaborate with them on projects to accomplish your goals. I have been very fortunate to have been able to work with some amazing professionals in the field on collaborative projects, which is good.
  • Triumph over adversity and challenges: Lots of the characters are either killed or are challenged during the course of the series, but some have overcome these challenges and obstacles. The same goes with academia – persistence and hard work will allow you to accomplish your goals and objectives.  If you get a rejection from a journal, find another outlet to publish in. If you find a conference where there are tons of politics going on, find another one. Look at the potential opportunities each action can give you – and go for it. Do things that are not excepted to keep people guessing – this is one of the things that worked well with Rob Stark with his war efforts in the book.

In summary, what are seeing here is a connection to the TV and book series with academia. There are times where we see great challenges ahead of us and that there are some things life throws at us in our field that are not fair. It is how we handle these situations and overcome them that makes us stronger, which is one of the lessons we can take away from Game of Thrones.

Staying focused, working hard, and thinking outside the box and formulating teams are just a few best practices we can look at when operating in the field of academia. We are seeing this become more of a trend and challenge for young professionals trying to establish themselves in the field and the growing pressures due to the tough economy and lack of job opportunities.  It’s definitely tough out there. As they say in Game of Thrones – winter is coming.

Hope you all are having a great day. :)

Best Wishes,

Karen