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  • Writer's pictureKate Tapper

Guest Blog: Can academics be kind and successful? by Kate Tapper

Sharing the Grateful Academic's second blog on kindness, I welcome the wonderful Kate Tapper, founder of Bud Development to the site. Kate is a talented coach, facilitator, speaker and writer, who runs highly successful courses on how to build compassionate resilience, supporting academics and changemakers to find their voice, plan their strategy, grow resilience and lead changes we need in the world.


Kindness /ˈkaɪndnəs/ noun

the quality of being gentle, caring, and helpful


Something is changing in academia.

More and more people are talking about the importance of kindness and compassion. But despite the appetite for a kinder research culture, external measures of success haven’t changed. So, can kind academics be as successful as the ruthless type? I say yes, and better still, they can be more successful if they can learn to be kind to themselves too.

Kind academics get bad advice

If you are reading this, then the chances are you are a kind academic. Although indistinguishable from the ruthless type intellectually, we can spot you a mile off.

Kind academics are the ones students go to for help. They leave their door open, make time for others, they listen and most importantly, they care.

Kind academics are the ones that people want to collaborate with – they make others feel good. It feels great to spend time with them.

Kind academics are the ones everyone wants as a supervisor because they see others’ talent and nurture it.

Kind academics are the ones invited to sit on every committee because they believe in the common good and want to do their bit.

Over the years, I’ve heard many ruthless academics advising the kind ones to be more cut-throat in order to be successful. This leaves kind academics feeling conflicted and questioning whether they can be successful as themselves or if they need to develop a tough alter-ego to make it to Professor and beyond. This would frankly be exhausting to keep up and, the good news is, it isn’t necessary.

What do we mean by success anyway?

Here’s a little exercise for you to try. Just jot down the answers to these three questions:

  • What have you been told success looks like?

  • What do you see success looking like in others?

  • What does success look like for you on your own terms?

When I’m coaching academics, the answers to these three questions tend to follow a particular pattern:

What have you been told success looks like?

Most academics list measurable outputs, papers, rankings, ratings, grant income. They feel tired and worried that they are not producing enough of these things.

What do you see success looking like in others?

Here academics describe being held in high regard and working with generosity and integrity. They look brighter about this, but still concerned they are not getting enough big hits to be credible.

What does success look like for you on your own terms?

Very few academics mention external measures. Success on their own terms means having influence, making a difference, enjoying life and work, and having a happy family. People are much more energised by this vision of success.

What emerges is a gnawing sense of unease that success rests on acing every metric - and that means doing something differently. Kind academics have been told that they must stop being so nice and start ‘being selfish’. This is never going to happen and if it did, we’d all be worse off.

But kind academics do need to learn to be kind to themselves.

The greatest advantage that ruthless academics have over kind ones is their willingness to say no. This enables them to maintain a clear focus and to manage their time and energy. But you don’t have to be ruthless in order to have a clear focus. You can say no kindly to some things. When you create more time and space for yourself, you become more balanced, energised and focused. This can have a profound positive impact on your work, home life and those around you. However, achieving this can mean breaking the habits of a lifetime, and is much easier said than done.

The greatest advantage that kind academics have over ruthless ones, is knowing how to treat a colleague well. But turning that care towards ourselves is hard.

Whatever you do, don’t try to stop being kind. Share the journey and cheer each other on. If you don’t have a group, you are welcome to join my next one that starts in May. You are the ones leading culture change in academia and you will be even more successful by doing so.

Kate's five top tips for being kinder to yourself

About the author:

Kate Tapper is a coach and consultant working across the higher education. She is Director of Bud Development and runs the Powerful Pause group coaching programme for changemakers within and beyond academia. You can contact Kate directly at or at

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