Provost Watson: To Overcome Bias And Succeed, ‘ROAR’

April 21, 2017

Karan Watson
Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Karan Watson.
By Sam Peshek, Texas A&M University Marketing and Communications

After more than 30 years of breaking barriers and rising through the ranks from student to educator to administrator at Texas A&M University, Executive Vice President and Provost Dr. Karan Watson knows how crucial resilience and optimism are to success.

Watson, who earlier this academic year announced her intent to step down as provost once her replacement is found, took a message of the importance of these two traits to Stanford in March to deliver remarks for women of color in academia with a talk titled “To Thrive in the Academy, ROAR!”

Watson said ROAR is an acronym for resilience, optimism, anger-management and rescuing yourself. She believes it can help young researchers mitigate and overcome inherent bias in their careers. Watson added that while institutions of higher education always strive to eliminate outright racial and gender bias, deploying ROAR can help people push through bias when it occurs.

“My job as an administrator is try to think of how do we train, how do we educate, how do we bring it to peoples’ consciousness so it happens less often,” Watson said. “I’m not asking them to be tougher than the rest of us. Society is already pretty demanding. I’m asking them to acknowledge they have to take care of themselves on some of this because sometimes it’s not going to be fair.”

The discussion also provided an opportunity for Watson to reflect upon her own career. She said that being the only woman in her engineering classes as an undergraduate put her in a unique situation to succeed.

“Being the only woman in my field wasn’t always so pleasant, but it sometimes worked in my favor,” Watson said. “It took five minutes for the instructor to know my name, but everybody noticed when I was gone. I was always in the limelight.”

That experience of managing pressure laid the groundwork for “ROAR” years later.

“I would tell people don’t get sucked into anxiousness,” Watson said. “Be appropriately on guard, but manage your energy. If you wear yourself out, even if you get a lot done, you’re not doing it at your best. If what you need to do is be a provost, then you need to manage that and think about that strategically. If you’re managing you instead of being what somebody else wants you to be, you’re going to be just fine.”

As her time as Texas A&M provost comes to a close, she made an observation of how Texas A&M addressed bias when she first joined the faculty, how it deals with the problem today and how it will take on bias in the future. She said she is optimistic because it is grounded in Texas A&M’s overall strategy to drive out explicit and implicit bias and bigotry that can be roadblocks for budding academics.

As Texas A&M works as an institution to eliminate bias, in the meantime, Watson wants all Aggies to continue to be resilient and optimistic in all their pursuits and set an example as leaders.

“Human beings are resilient,” Watson said. “It’s a question of how long it takes people to bounce back. In many studies, the most resilient people are those who are optimistic. People don’t want to follow pessimists.”

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