I have always been a sports enthusiast. There’s something captivating and inspiring about it, although it’s difficult to put into words. Perhaps it’s the incredible athletes and their awe-inspiring feats, or maybe it’s the way sports mirrors the dramas of life itself.
I frequently find myself drawing parallels between sports and academia. Take, for example, Arsène Wenger, the studious Frenchman who coached Arsenal to six trophies and is known for having modernized English football. He was famously referred to as “The Professor” or, perhaps jokingly, “Le Professeur” during the pinnacle of his career. That title even became the name of his biography. Regrettably, similar to many professors, Wenger ended his career perceived as dogmatic and out-of-touch, living off past glories. This serves as a valuable lesson for those of us embarking on the later stages of our own academic journeys.
This year, I unexpectedly became engrossed in Arsenal’s revival and their quest for the Premiership title. I’m not entirely sure why Arsenal captured my attention soon after I moved to the UK 15 years ago. It certainly wasn’t because they were winning titles. It could be Wenger’s professorial reputation or their reputation for nurturing young talent and having an outstanding football academy. Nevertheless, I found myself cheering for Arsenal more passionately than any other team. And this unexpected passion reached its pinnacle during this year’s thrilling title challenge despite it ending in the team’s failure to win the trophy.
As is often the case, the team’s success was driven by their manager. Mikel Arteta, the Spanish manager of Arsenal, is a true embodiment of leadership and innovation. His astute tactical decisions and unwavering dedication have revitalized Arsenal’s gameplay and instilled a renewed sense of determination within the squad. Arteta’s ability to inspire and motivate his players is evident in their on-field performances and unwavering team spirit. With a keen eye for talent and a strategic approach to the game, Arteta has breathed new life into Arsenal, positioning them as formidable contenders. Under his guidance, the team has not only experienced notable improvements but has also fostered a culture of resilience and growth despite having one of the youngest squads in the league.
Arteta’s passion and drive serve as exemplary models for academic leaders, showing us how to inspire our teams and laboratories. According to The Guardian, Arteta’s energy is contagious:
“Arteta is in the thick of it, revelling in the excitement, putting everything he has into the mix, especially energy. ‘I am an energy giver, I don’t like energy suckers,’ he said. ‘I just like to give, and I like people who give energy in different ways. Sometimes it’s with body language, tone of voice, hugs. It’s people looking for solutions, not excuses.’” — The Guardian
Let us take this valuable lesson to heart and avoid being energy suckers or energy vampires — people who sap the emotional energy of those around them. Negativity has no place in our work. Scientific research is undoubtedly a serious pursuit, and success or failure can significantly impact lives and careers. However, in the grand scheme of things, there are more important aspects of life: our health, friends, and family, to name a few. And if we fail in our research, there’s no need to fret; we can simply start anew with a different project. After all, we’re not cardiac surgeons or any of the professions dealing with life-or-death situations. Theirs are the truly stressful professions. Cardiac surgeons are at risk of burnout and depression with those aged 45 or older having suicide rates 1.5 to 3 times that of the general population.
Academia harbors its fair share of negativity as any followers of the Twitter hashtag #AcademicChatter knows. While some of it is justified, some grievances may be blown out of proportion. Let’s strive to enjoy the journey as much as we can, regardless of whether we score that coveted Science or Nature paper or the prestigious grant. You can’t win ’em all, the saying goes.
As the season drew to a close, I was delighted to see Arsenal players and fans celebrating the challenge they had posed for the title. Let us once again find inspiration in Mikel Arteta’s words to the fans. The Guardian reported the following scene after Arsenal’s final match of the season:
“Holding a microphone on the pitch afterward, Mikel Arteta waited for the songs hailing his revolution to quieten and thanked the faithful for their patience. ‘We know our destination is to bring success, joy, and trophies to this club, but in the meantime, please enjoy the journey,’ he told them.” — The Guardian
In academia, just like in sports, success is undoubtedly important. However, let’s not forget to savor the process, the camaraderie, and the invaluable lessons learned along the way. It is in embracing the journey that we truly find fulfillment.
“Please enjoy the journey” — let’s etch these words onto the walls of our laboratories.