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People say you can either be a fan of Star War or Star Trek, never both or between. I did not realize how true this statement is until I watched Star Trek.

My husband had to persuade me to dive into the first episode because I am that kind of audience committing to reaching the final of each good TV I watch. And Star Trek: The Next Generation is a seven-year production with 178 episodes. It is a grand commitment of my time. But once I started the first one, I started to understand why my husband is so passionate about this old TV series.

Among all characters, I love two the most: Data the android, and Jean-Luc Picard the captain. And I think every professor and other academics (symbolized as professors below) can learn from the fictional character called Picard.

Open communication

Picard as the captain of Enterprise the Starfleet ship, has an honorable attitude towards his communication with his staff. In fact, casual chatting is nothing because everybody can do it more or less unless s/he has social difficulties. The difficult part kicks in when a person makes mistakes or encounters a big problem.

Can I trust the professor to offer no blaming but full support right into the urgent situation to get problems solved? Can I count on his or her professional skills and experiences to help unblock the problems that trouble me?

Unfortunately very often a student who works or studies under the supervision of a professor will answer no to these questions. It is not easy to arrange an appointment with professors out of their busy schedules. No mention the quality of the appointment that you battle to get. Instead, it is not uncommon that professors count on their employees (students) to solve problems on their own and pull their work together with minimum guidance from others.

Diversity and respect

You will meet a super diverse work group in the central staff team of Enterprise: humans (original and enhanced), betazoid, klingon, android. The completely different races of creatures working together in the deep universe. Picard as the captain is capable of communicating with all of them with a very respectable relationship to each. Picard has a natural or educated mindset for respecting differences. He fought for Data's right as Android against being dissembled on human's will in the name of scientific purpose. He stood with Worf as his chadish to support his effort to clean his family's reputation in the Klingon empire. He accepted to mind meld with Spock's father Sarek to help handle his overwhelming emotions during an important negotiation.

Now what we see to happen in a lot of research teams of a professor in an international university nowadays, is a monopolistic presence of people of the same nationality or religion as the professor. Shouldn't it raise some red flag when it comes to such a selective employment tendency? I will understand if you are in your home country and certainly you have more access to local talents, which can lead to a proportionally heavier percentage of local people. But when you are in another country and the employment is open to the whole world pool of talents, how to justify the preferred selection of talents from one's own country? Isn't it discrimination, stereotype, or personal preference? It becomes more complicated than that, I believe.

Work ethics

Isn't it true that nowadays quite a number of professors are too obsessed with pulling in funding, hiring more research students, and adding their names to work that they do not even contribute a reading? As the destination of the academic career life who is expected as a role model of young researchers and students, the professorship is not supposed to be taken as a tenure track that secures a highly respected job to sit on and ignore its accompanying responsibility.

Picard gave credits to his staff who perform well in their positions. With his power and position, he was offered several times to be promoted to work in senior Starfleet office instead of a ship. He always considered himself as an explorer instead of a power seeker or politician and remained a Starfleet captain. He knew who he was and he enjoyed doing it till the end by sometimes having to say no to some well-considered good offers. In another word, once you decided to become a professor, you need to give up other temptations that are highly corruptive and easily distracting for scholars.

I remember a scene when Picard was driving a shuttle through a crowded minefield of deformations in front of Enterprise to guide the ship out, where he could easily get destroyed but he insisted on driving it himself because he always put the life of his crew first. The responsibility becomes part of his role as captain. He did not even connect it to be a heroic behavior. That is when great leadership happens. He puts himself into the ugly battle on the front line with you, leading you to victory and safety instead of depression and doom.

Picard respected young talents and was always there to support their growth when needed. In an episode, when the transdimensional Tau Alphan known as The Traveler told Picard that Wesley Crusher possessed prodigious abilities and he was a genius with the intricacies of time, energy and propulsion and that those talents needed to be encouraged. Picard was already impressed by Wesley's work before and after that, he continued his affirmation on Wesley by granting him "the field commission of acting ensign "for outstanding performance in the best Starfleet tradition" on stardate 41263.4". He referred to his staff by work titles or respectful titles like Mr, including when calling Wesley he used Ensign or Mr. Wesley. All Wesley's doing and contributions went to Wesley's name. Did you see Picard claiming the reward instead? There are brighter minds outside ourselves. That is a basic understanding to be respected as an individual. When sitting on the chair of professorship, the role of adding more to others bears much more weight than the temptation of adding more to self.

Some may argue that the whole system is like this and what can you do to make a difference instead of following the social norm? Well, Picard also said: "There are times, sir, when men of good conscience cannot blindly follow orders." And there is enough tragedy that happened when everyone was thinking: I am simply following the order.

For Starfleet ships to travel around exploring the grand universe, there is a primitive rule of no interference to other planets' natural growth and events. Picard broke that rule several times to save lives. But he admitted his breaking the rule even it was out of good intention. Most of the time, he respected the primitive rule and used it as a fundamental navigator when charting the universe.

If we want to examine the rules for academia, we will easily find a lot of violation practices.

  • coauthorship (violation practice: professors' name on students' publications without significant contribution)
  • publication (violation practice: pressing down one student's progress to benefit another favorable one)
  • plagiarism (violation practice: self-citation to raise publication impact in the community)

Certainly that breaking a good rule out of good reason is one thing, while breaking a good rule out of bad reason is another thing.

Tuesday 25 June 2019