Rage and Pollen

bitterness is not sustainable.

earlier this week i found out that someone had published my work without giving me credit.

this is not about that, specifically. no worries, i’ve got my formal response under control.  this blog post is about the fact that having your work stolen is considered an almost necessary layer of academic upbringing. It is a shared experience that almost goes unquestioned, like putting on underwear. plagiarism is accepted and therefore implicitly acceptable, even as warnings against plagiarism hang on academic walls, grace every syllabus, leap in bolded glory from every journal’s instructions to authors.

 it’s a form of hazing that most scholars have encountered, usually as soon as their work is worth stealing. in that respect, it could even be considered a complement or a required rite of passage.

in medical education, there is a fairly well-developed body of literature (at least since 1994) on the hidden curriculum…defined as the process by which medical residents and attending physicians pass unsavory practices down to medical students through implicit cultural practices that overwhelm the pretty policies written in handbooks. hide emotional discomfort by making fun of the patients. never admit you’re wrong or that you don’t know. teach through humiliation.

having been previously shaped by the hidden curriculum of medical education, i can tell you that it is an almost-ancient force, unrolling through the hospital corridors, into the elevators and down the stairwells to the parking garage.  It’s not unlike the unpleasant rush of air that foreshadows an underground train. medical education’s hidden curriculum is situated learning at its darkest, but possibly its richest and best-documented. If i’ve imbued the hidden curriculum of medical education with a folklorishly inevitable power, then i have done well.

i should note that, according the literature at least, medical education is aware and currently working on the problem.

hazing. hidden curriculum. being treated with disrespect. i really don’t know what to do with it the second time around.

there are so many structural and cultural supports in place for the practice of faculty stealing the work of students. i made a concept map of what i wanted to say here but now i find that i don’t have the juice to convert the map to sentences. i don’t even have the energy for bullet points.

bitterness is not sustainable.

when i was a child, i had only one nightmare. in it, i was trying to convey important information but no one would hear me, no matter how loud i screamed. the context and information and people in the dream would change, but my struggle to be heard was always the same.

in returning to graduate school, i’ve been forced to work through a lot of anger towards medical education’s hidden curriculum, and a lot of anger towards myself for allowing myself to be shaped by that curriculum. there have been quite a few times that i’ve felt like i’m back in the nightmare, running through alleys, hitting buildings with scraps of wet cardboard, trying to get the attention of the buildings’ inhabitants.

i walked from my car this morning muffled in a layer of rage and pollen. i was deeply worried about myself on a meta- level, repeating over and over:

bitterness is not sustainable.

despite these layers of worry, frustration, and rage, i was walking quickly because one of my classmates in my community-based participatory research class had sent me a “may day” email fifteen minutes prior. we were presenting digital stories in class this morning. she had waited to the last minute to do her digital story, and now she was having some serious technical issues publishing her video. she had asked me to meet her asap to help her fix her video.

how to step out of the layer, how to experience the hidden curriculum without being shaped, how to stop screaming and thrashing when no one will hear you. there are other ways to win, but sometimes it can be challenging to find your way.

bitterness is not sustainable.


I felt the layer of rage and pollen lift as I sat with my classmate in the empty classroom, helping her fix her digital story with just minutes to spare. The joy of helping someone create something was enough. It meant something to her, but I know the moment meant a lot more to me.

Really all I’ve ever wanted to do is work freely and with all my heart.  I’ve been afraid that professors who steal my work might rob me of being able to be that person, the crazy girl who throws her whole self with great joy into a project.

But I find that, this afternoon, I remain myself and I am victorious.

The hidden curriculum isn’t going to get me this time.

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