When colleagues that don't co-author with me and are in separate projects, writing different papers, I've noticed they don't congratulate me, when I give them exciting progress. They're around for the gossip, and are always willing to listen to gossip or bad news. But when I have exciting news to report, e.g. a new paper, they are silent.

I do try to cheer my colleagues on, but I realize I cannot force them to do the same.

How could I deal with this mentally?

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    What is your position? PI, grad student, etc Jan 6, 2021 at 21:44
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    – cag51
    Jan 8, 2021 at 2:40

8 Answers 8


You're right that many academics (and I suppose not only academics) somehow systematically fail to encourage their colleagues, and do not congratulate their successes.

Ideally, yes, at least "mentors" would do so, all the more in light of the general failure. But, in my experience, mentorship is not to be reliably expected. Sadly. Let's not bother to talk about certain tendencies to "keep people down"...

So your situation doesn't surprise me, and I wouldn't expect much change anytime soon. If you can find a situation where people give you positive feedback, cherish it. And, as I've been thinking about more and more, you might remind yourself to be sure to give other people positive feedback, when you are in a relatively senior position at least!

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    Then I wonder why so many PhD students suffer from mental illness. Surely this issue is minimal, but a big drop in the vase that just fuels self loathing more and more. Also because NOONE is told that at the beginning of their PhD studies
    – TheVal
    Jan 7, 2021 at 11:39
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    @alephzero People in all sorts of industries seem to light up when I make them compliments for their good work. A chef who makes the best pizza. A nurse who makes everything more endurable by being soothing. A hairdresser who just "gets" my hair (it's complicated). Sort of like these people are humans and not some kind of robots. Jan 7, 2021 at 16:29
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    No need to wait until you're in a senior position. Do it now! Jan 7, 2021 at 19:37
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    @alephzero I genuinely loathe this thinking, it's the source of a plethora of relational problems and people that think like this are also blind to the consequences. I strongly suggest to reevaluate the fact that people are human beings, with a psychology, and not machines. Lastly if you say that "nobody gets cheered on for doing "good" work occasionally" then you've been in a toxic industry environment
    – TheVal
    Jan 7, 2021 at 22:02
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    @alephzero That said people in industry often get raises, bonuses, or promotions from the higher-ups if they do a good or superlative job, and that mostly serves the same function. By contrast, such things are fairly rare in academia. You might get a raise occasionally but it's not a major thing to aim for. E.g., you don't get a bonus for publishing an important paper in a high-impact journal that makes the university look good. Jan 8, 2021 at 7:05

I think this is just the way academics normally behave. We tend to work in silos. Those in different silos don't understand our work. Those in the same silo just take success for granted.

Win the Nobel in Chemistry or Economics and you will get congratulated, but not for much less than that. Win a local award and people will cheer you on (Teacher of the Year, say). But generally they are just happy (or not) to be working with you.

I worked in academia for about 40 years and don't remember any instances of congratulations except for the few times I won an award, sometimes a shared award. You might be congratulated, actually, when you turn out a new doctoral student who has written a nice thesis, but the work was mostly theirs, not yours.

We are quiet, generally, and just get on with it.

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    You are truly luck if “the work was mostly theirs, not yours”. Jan 7, 2021 at 3:05
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    Of course, you can take things as "defended phd thesis", "somebody wants to work wkth you", "somebody asks your opinion on something", "somebody wants you to give a talk" as compliments.
    – user111388
    Jan 7, 2021 at 7:53
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    While this might be widespread (can’t tell), this is by no means universal. I’ve been lucky in that I’ve always experienced positive, supportive work environments, and congratulating others for minor achievements, and celebrating them, is very much the norm here. In many labs it’s customary to open a bottle of sparkling wine for every paper published … but even where this isn’t the case there will be some kind of recognition, and offering congrats at the water cooler is very much de rigueur. Jan 7, 2021 at 12:46
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    @KonradRudolph A bottle of wine for every paper? It sounds like you guys are just looking for any excuse. :) Jan 8, 2021 at 14:07
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    @stackoverblown, at Cambridge it is Sherry. And, yes, any excuse.
    – Buffy
    Jan 8, 2021 at 14:08

Try to start a cultural shift in your area

Others seem to be implying that this is just "how things are" in academia and you should accept it and move on. It's easier to say that when you have reached a high, respected position in your field, have published countless papers, received awards, given keynote presentations, etc. At that point, for the most part, you know you are doing well, and a single rejection or acceptance doesn't have as great an impact on you. You don't mention what stage you have reached in your career, but for those in PhD or postdoc positions, this stuff is often a big deal, and there is nothing wrong with hoping that you might get congratulated when you get a bit of success.

So what can you do? Step one is to make a point of congratulating others. Ask about their progress, and show enthusiasm for their achievements. Doesn't matter where they are in the academic hierarchy, almost everyone likes talking about themselves and being appreciated.

Then you can try to do this in a slightly more formal context. Make a time every week or two when you and a bunch of your colleagues will meet up to share news, some coffee and a cake/pack of biscuits. Make a point of going round the room and asking who has achievements they would like to mention e.g. papers published, grants accepted (even small ones), presentations given, or whatever. And given them a round of applause or a "well done". If no one has anything to celebrate, which will happen plenty of weeks, then commiserate. There's bound to be someone with a paper sitting in its 4th month of review, or who's just heard back from the dreaded Reviewer 3.

It's not going to change your local culture overnight. And you may find that some just aren't interested. So pick the easiest targets first - your friends, closest colleagues, those at the same career stage as you, the friendliest lecturers/professors. Hopefully if it catches on it might gather a bit of momentum. Note the value of cake/biscuits/doughnuts in tempting people out of their offices - make a rota for who brings the tasty snacks. If you really can't persuade those in your immediate vicinity, perhaps you can do something similar online, looking for groups on social media who are all studying in the same area.

Sure, don't rely on praise entirely. If it's not forthcoming, that absolutely does not diminish your success. Be proud of your work regardless. But there's nothing wrong with wanting to hear "well done", and equally plenty to be gained from saying it to others.

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    I love this answer. There are actually more benefits in congratulations and praise than just the slow chipping away at a negative culture that you discuss. First, other people will appreciate your generosity and become more likely to reciprocate. And second, being generous with congratulations serves as antidote against one's own (perhaps unacknowledged) envy, wich is a much less pleasant feeling than whatever is the opposite of Schadenfreude.
    – henning
    Jan 7, 2021 at 13:27
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    I agree. Lead by example. I once met a research team leader who was like this. Everyone in the team went around with smiles on their faces. The more you do it to others, the more they will tend to do it to you. Of course there are always exceptions. There are super-ambitious people who will tread on others to get their way, and insecure people who don't want to feel lower than others. The former are impossible to change, the latter may respond to kindness eventually! Most people just absorb the local atmosphere and go along with it. Jan 7, 2021 at 13:37
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    +1 we have a designated person in our institute who sends a monthly email highlighting the various achievements that have occurred that month, such as papers being published or successful PhD viva exams. It's nice to celebrate these things. Jan 7, 2021 at 22:27

What do you need the felicitations for?

If you do good work, at some point you will be collecting best papers awards, perhaps even lifetime awards or the like and even that gets stale at some point, as far as ego is concerned. They are very useful to boost a career, no question, so one certainly should not scoff at them, but one should not make oneself dependent on them.

I find a quiet "interesting paper" comment accompanied by a small nod (i.e. without sarcasm) by a respected colleague to be one of the greatest compliments possible. Your work being cited by good researchers another one; however, do not expect these.

In the end, you should know yourself best whether you do a good job. The exciting part is not the new paper, but the new insight and that does not depend on acclamation by others. A new truth or insight, that is the ultimate prize, after all.

If you absolutely need external motivational feedback, find fellow enthusiasts in the field and exchange with them. Usually they will be scattered around the globe rather than at your location, but today that really does not matter anymore.

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    I once worked in a place where the highest complement paid was something like "Not too shabby". Repeated again for extreme emphasis.
    – Buffy
    Jan 6, 2021 at 21:42
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    @Buffy Was that in the UK? Jan 6, 2021 at 21:43
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    I once addressed a colleague as Professor with that emphasis, just after her promotion. That is all it took.
    – Buffy
    Jan 6, 2021 at 21:56
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    @Buffy Hm, "all it took"? To what? That's quite ambiguous without reading your body language... Jan 6, 2021 at 21:57
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    Sorry. A big smile and even a hug if I remember. At the time, I was one of the most senior professors. And she had had to delay her promotion when her mother became ill, so it was pretty special.
    – Buffy
    Jan 6, 2021 at 22:41

Who is likely to congratulate you?

Close friends

Romantic partners

Family members

Crawlers who want something from you

Suitors who want to get to know you by using flattery

Generous people who are just like that naturally

People who think it is the right thing to do

Con artists (watch your wallet)

Admirers/fans if you are famous

Sycophants if you are powerful

The rest of us are so worried about our own careers/relationships/health/utility bills that we hardly notice the successes or failures of others. We may even be envious of others' good fortune.

Once you make a few real friends in the research community, stick with them and value them.

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    "Once you make a few real friends in the research community, stick with them and value them." I perfectly agree, but check the other side of the medal: in research there are tons of people who stick only with their friend, and often the behavior towards the "non-friends" is more gang-oriented than empathic behavior. Example: a group of friends publishes 2 paper per years "per capita", working 80h/week (no foul play, they do honest work, not like they are doing copies of similar papers). Someone working 40h/week, producing 1 paper/year, will be defined by them "a slacker"...
    – EarlGrey
    Jan 8, 2021 at 15:08
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    @EarlGrey - Yes, thanks for that. I didn't mean to form a clique. I meant don't expect praise or congratulations from everyone around you. If support and congratulation is something that you need, then get it from friends. Don't expect it from everyone. Jan 8, 2021 at 21:25

This is a common issue in academia, which I've discussed with numerous colleagues.

The answers that suggest you develop your own self-esteem are, bluntly, wrong. This subject has been studied extensively by management and productivity experts, who have found that celebrating small wins increases productivity, and is especially important in research and innovation. Here's a good summary in the Harvard Business Review.

Unfortunately, there are systematic reasons why academics rarely congratulate each other:

  • Research achievements are stretched out in time. Paper acceptances often come in on random Wednesdays months after submission, when you're already focused on something else. It's harder to celebrate when you don't get a break from work to do it.
  • Most research achievements are individual. The big milestones that will make your career, like a best paper award, probably won't even show up on your team-mates' CVs. It's harder for them to drop everything for to celebrate something that doesn't directly affect them.
  • Academia is a competitive culture. Sometimes, your achievements may hurt your peers. In some fields, there are more PhD students and post-docs in a single university than there are faculty job openings in the world. It's really hard for people to celebrate your success when they're worried about their own scientific survival. In some institutions this competitiveness gets deeply ingrained and is perpetuated by established researchers.

With that said, you can still try to change the cultivate the habit of celebrating small successes.

To avoid the problems above, start with a group of people who either collaborate closely, or at least don't have to compete with one another. Find a meeting time when everyone is relaxed and open-minded. Tell them you'd like to try an experiment to make the group happier. Cite the literature (there's lots!) on the productivity benefits of celebrating small wins.

It might help if you make a systematic plan for when and how to celebrate, e.g. "If any of us gets a paper acceptance, award, or job offer during the week, we all go out for lunch on Friday", or, "Once a month, we set aside a group meeting (with cookies) to share the things we want to work on and the things we're proud of." There are some great options in other answers as well. If you want to change the culture, be the person who organizes the lunches and brings the cookies; eventually others will follow.

If you can't get your research group on board, the next best thing is to celebrate outside of work with friends or family. Take all the little milestones - the paper reviews handled, the applications submitted, the experiments that ran just right - and leave work early, get a fancy dinner, and mark your own success.

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    Great answer--I agree. The problem in academia is often that your closest colleagues can be your biggest competitors--you're applying for the same grants, promotions, etc, and unlike other industries, there's pretty only much a single career route for everyone to pass through to be considered successful in academia, and the number of positions available is not growing.
    – spacetyper
    Jan 8, 2021 at 1:20
  • Good answer. Moral of the story: it starts with you. I do take my students out to lunch when they have their first paper accepted. Also, I've in heard in some labs, students get together to burn (literally) their rejected papers. Jan 8, 2021 at 23:33
  • @Prof.SantaClaus in my lab, we had a "Wall of Shame" where we posted all of our rejection letters. It was very cathartic - I highlighted all the passive-aggressive parts of my letters in bright pink, and for a while took great pride in having been rejected from both the smallest ($300) and largest ($1.2M) amounts of money on the wall. Took a lot of the sting out of the rejection.
    – Blizzard
    Jan 9, 2021 at 0:21
  • @Blizzard l like the idea! group therapy :) Jan 9, 2021 at 1:57

The trick is to have a high self-esteem, that way you don't have to rely on validation from others.

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    And how is a person supposed to build their self-esteem if their colleagues don't take the time to celebrate their achievements at work? It's pretty easy to feel worthless when everyone around you acts as if you are. Jan 7, 2021 at 22:30
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    You build self esteem by doing esteem-able things. If you feel you deserve congratulations for something, then you certainly feel it is esteem-able. You seem you have a misconception that self-esteem is rooted in what you believe others think about you. That is not the case. Jan 7, 2021 at 22:58
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    The trick is not to care what other people think. This is a good answer. It will not be a popular answer. But it is the truth. Build your own sense of self worth. Do not run around begging for the scraps that fall from the tables of others. It is not nourishing. It is childish behaviour.
    – P i
    Jan 7, 2021 at 23:50
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    @astronat Self-esteem comes from within. Self-esteem that needs to be maintained constantly through external support is not self-esteem. That's an emotional crutch. "It's pretty easy to feel worthless when everyone around you acts as if you are." Nonsense. Since when is neutral treatment the same as someone putting you down? That would only occur if your default thought process was that you were already worthless to begin with (aka having low self-esteem.).
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 8, 2021 at 2:12
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    @Pi "This is a good answer. It will not be a popular answer. But it is the truth." Which demonstrates the point it's making rather nicely.
    – Ray
    Jan 11, 2021 at 16:09

You are working in a group with a cultural problem. The best things you can do is to do it better than them, which means to actually congratulate others for their achievements honestly. Be happy for others if they do progress and reach their goals.

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    Precisely practice common courtesy and see the reactions, you'd be surprised of how much it can tell you of the people and environment
    – TheVal
    Jan 7, 2021 at 22:04

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