Ever since I was young, I have loved reading. It whisked me away to an imaginative universe where everything was possible! Fairy tales were my favorite, and I used to fantasize about being a courageous princess in a lovely gown, dancing with the handsome prince at a magical ball. And then living happily ever after…

I’ve always been fascinated by Snow White, from the initial version published in 1812 as part of the Brothers Grimm’s Grimms’ Fairy Tales collection to the numerous variations thereof. I’ve especially enjoyed Stephan Kalinksi’s retelling of the story, which converted the conventional fairy tale into an inspiring narrative. This version merged the traditional features of Snow White with a radical and modern twist in a world where bravery is valued over beauty, forgiveness is more powerful than retribution, and princesses are pioneers rather than prisoners. It resonated with my personal philosophy and caused me to reflect on some of my academic beliefs.

The fundamental storyline remained the same, but the emphasis was on bravery. Snow White was the protagonist of the story, and she was able to survive (and even thrive) due to her resourcefulness. Her behaviors were described as smart, innovative, and out-of-the-box. Snow White would embark on spontaneous adventures, climb trees, and present speeches, demonstrating an inquisitive attitude, a desire to explore new ventures, and an eagerness to gain knowledge.  Her traits reminded me of academic qualities that I aspire to.

The queen (also known as Snow White’s stepmother) was the antagonist in this story. She still had a magic mirror in this version of the story, and she begged: “mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the bravest of them all?” The queen was envious of Snow White’s bravery and was so consumed by this emotion that she never made an effort to have a relationship with Snow White.  In the non-fantasy, academic world, the same is true. We often become focused in our own interests, publications, and promotions, that we end up in rivalries and loneliness. 

The queen initiated her quest to destroy Snow White after learning from the Mirror that Snow White was the bravest. The Huntsman was ordered to kill her, and initially tied her to a tree.  Snow White was able to remain calm, be mindful, and divert the Huntsman’s attention while devising a strategy to escape. She overcame her challenges and did not hesitate to flee across the dark, magical forests. This is when Snow White stumbled into the dwarfs’ cottage and met some of her greatest friends.

Initially, the dwarfs were guarded and wary to embrace the newcomer, but quite soon they were elevating and capacitating each other, and a joyous spirit of singing and dancing enfolded.  The dwarfs’ relationship with Snow White provided valuable ideas for promoting good relationships in academia:

Look out for fellow academics: Doc is a touch haughty, but he always keeps an eye out for his friends. We can mentor one another and provide opportunities for all of us to succeed.
Give compliments freely: Although Bashful is a modest, self-conscious dwarf, he does not hesitate to lavish praise on others. Similarly, we can increase morale by extending credit and compliments.
Utilize the existing energy: Of all the dwarfs, Happy is the most joyful and entertaining, and his energy uplifts the others. If we have breakthroughs, excellent outcomes, or good news, we can share it with other academics to inspire and motivate.
Everyone has a place in academia: Dopey is widely regarded as the most popular dwarf, even though he does not say a single word. Everyone has a place in academia, regardless of who we are or who our colleagues are. You may not always be treated the way you expect, but you have no way of knowing what the other person’s intentions are.
There are power in a community: Sneezy has hay fever and allergies, and he is continuously affected by them. To deflect his sneezes, all the dwarfs work together. When colleagues in the academic or scientific community support one another, they have a tremendous amount of power and influence.
Use caution when making snap judgments: Grumpy is a cynical dwarf, yet when Snow White is in danger, he is one of the first to help. In academia, collaborations with national and international role-players are crucial, and simple judgments can have a negative impact on relationships.
Schedule time for self-care: Sleepy always appears to be in need of a nap. Maintaining relationships with others will be challenging for an academic who does not manage his or her personal well-being.

As the story progressed, Snow White was confronted with several challenges and eventually fell into a deep sleep. Upon discovering her glass coffin, the prince asked the dwarfs to tell him about Snow White and the story behind the coffin.  I loved that this version of the narrative didn’t include the prince’s kiss, and that when Snow White awoke, she could have a sensible discussion. When she was presented with the opportunity for vengeance, she chose the high road (not to get back at the queen). Instead, she chose to pursue her own ambitions and travel the world. She invited the prince to join her on her new adventure as a friend, acknowledging that they’ll be able to achieve more, together.

This version was such a thrilling, fresh inspiration. As in the Snow White story, I envision an era in which academics strengthens one another in joint ventures for the greater good of science. 

Mirror mirror on the wall, who will I call…?

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