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A culture of gratitude, civility, and kindness

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

We’ve just come off the Thanksgiving break. And is it just me or do we all feel like we really, really needed some time to just rest, relax, and regroup before heading into the last few weeks of the semester?

This is one of my favorite times of the year. We can still recall the nature around us recently flush with color and even a Miami resident can appreciate the occasional crisp autumn breeze stirring the senses. (Although the getting dark earlier transition time each year does make me grateful for the sunrise each morning). And as we come together for end of the year and Mason anniversary celebrations, I take a pause and recognize how very thankful I am that we are able to do so again.

Between the hustle and bustle of holiday preparation, traveling, final exams, and shorter days of sun, it seems like we are on a fast track to completing our monstrous to do lists. Stress is high and time seems shorter. Yet, I feel there’s definitely value in taking a moment to reflect on what we are thankful for and, like our recent Women Leaders in STEM event suggested, consider what we ourselves are worth.

From life hack lists to gratitude practices (regularly listing or taking time to consider a few things each day you are thankful for), research shows that considering daily gratitude and sharing acts of kindness can greatly enhance one’s wellbeing and, by extension, the overall culture of our science community.

In a recent conversation, it was suggested that we all could use some gratitude for the great work we do. The Celebration of Success award committee is reviewing the 40+ nominations for our annual awards to be shared next Monday afternoon. Although we are excited to honor the stellar work of our staff and faculty at this event, I recognize I am extremely thankful for the energy each and every one of our team puts into making learning engaging and thought provoking for our students, and the patience and persistence those in our community bring to our research or administrative efforts. I also simultaneously appreciate the seemingly little things—when someone offers grace and a kind word if a big deadline is made (or missed) or is late to a meeting because of a flat tire. This flexibility and kindness are extremely important in our often fast-paced world.

So after appreciating all the good work and kindness happening around us, the real questions become, what regular dose of gratitude, kindness, and grace do we offer ourselves? And what can we do to better support and understand each other?

The recent Women Leaders in STEM ‘Knowing Your Worth’ session attendees discussed self-awareness, self-confidence, and self-validation as the starting points for self-advocacy and one’s success trajectory. But it will take way more than just those elements alone. As faculty fellow and Women Leaders in STEM founder, Mason Biology Assistant Professor, Tina Bell noted in her introduction at the event, “Many of us were raised with the idea that our highest value is in the home with children and not in the workplace. These culturally produced behaviors have led us to not realize our value and to not ask to be compensated for all that we bring to the table. This, combined with systemic bias and gender discrimination, has led to women being paid significantly less than their male counterparts. Like all things systemic and culturally embedded, this too will take time to change. I hope that conversations like we will have today put us on a path towards a more equitable workplace.”

I am grateful for those exhibiting bravery and courage to share their stories. Collectively, we must not just hear them, but actually listen and learn as we strive to build a more supportive, appreciative Mason Science community that meaningfully and regularly recognizes excellence and the value and worth each one of us brings to our collective success. It starts with every one of us.

Visit the dean's blog for more insights from Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm.