A brief ‘then and now’ look at academia


Let me introduce you to two characters: naïve-me and now-me. I can’t draw, so let’s use ‘imagination time’ to envisage what they look like…

It’s been a year and a half since the Ph.D journey began. As with most things, that which starts off shiny and sparkly in the eyes of naïve-me often ends up scuffed and smelling questionable in the eyes (and nose) of now-me, although a few glimmers remain. The following are a few academic scenarios from the points of view of both characters. I’m sure that you’ll spot a pattern pretty quickly, but there are a few exceptions to the rule, and while some are tongue-in-cheek, some are (disappointingly) true experiences. (And yes, of course this doesn’t apply to all situations or to everyone in academia, but I’m sure you can relate!).



Naïve-me: I have these points to make, I know we can change things, and I’m confident of your support!

Now-me: Does anyone remember that point I ma… sorry, I mean, 15.4.23-B? No? Is anyone here actually breathing? … Hello?!?!

Library collections

Naïve-me: Look at all this knoooooowleeeeeeedge!

Now-me: What do you mean we don’t have access to this incredibly specific title from 1976? It was pivotal in the development of neo-liberal basket weaving theory!

Support staff and admin

Naïve-me: I don’t expect any response to this e-mail for at least 3 days…

Now-me: A response within 10 minutes?! Bless you, wonderful admin teams!

Academic debates online

Naïve-me: I don’t want to get involved in this as these people seem to know far more than I do, so I’ll just observe.

Now-me: I don’t want to get involved because 140 characters is not enough space to present a coherent argument, and it’ll probably end up in someone throwing their toys out of the pram, so I’ll just observe (with popcorn).

Reading articles and chapters

Naïve-me: I can’t believe I spent so long reading that entire article!

Now-me: Abstract, intro, conclusion, results; keep or chuck. NEXT.

Interacting at conferences

Naïve-me: Eep. So many new faces, so many people whose work I’ve read… this dark corner of the room with this plant seems safe.

Now-me: “Oh, you’re new to this too? Let’s be awkward togeth… oh, you’ve also noticed how clique-ee these things are? Makes you wonder how anyone gets any work done.”

Remembering quotes and research

Naïve-me: There is so much information out there. I’ll never remember any of this.

Now-me: Why can I remember this specific quote, page number AND publication date, yet I cannot remember my nieces’ birthday?

On what Twitter academics post

Naïve-me: They must post some really interesting and thought provoking stuff. I’ll definitely follow them to see what they do!

Now-me: It’s all humblebrags, links to arbitrary University rank tables and utterly tenuous links to big events and how their research ‘had an impact on this.’ It’s like they’re standing on a bench at a busy train station, holding a megaphone and shouting their own name in the hopes of some interaction with scared passers-by.

How Universities interact with each other

Naïve-me: Let’s collaborate on this area of research and find a way to advance knowledge and practice!

Now-me: “MINE.” “Who the hell are you?! You’re not from my institution.” “We am da best; just look at this sub-sub-sub-table in this league ranking to prove it!” “REF REF REF REF REF REF REF…”


Naïve-me: You’ve done this before with GCSE and A-level students… I wonder how much they’ll actually pay attention?

Now-me: They… they actually answered all of the questions and showed working/defence of their position?! 1 squillion points to Gryffindor!

Getting a good job post-Ph.D

Naïve-me: I can’t wait to get out there, teach some eager minds, do my research and work as part of an exciting and innovative team of linguists!

Now-me: lol, what are ‘job?’

Presenting posters

Naïve-me: I think this will be fun, although there are plenty of other posters around, too. I wonder how I could stand out?

Now-me: Why is no-one standing next to their poster? Why do I feel like a weather forecaster? And am I really being snubbed by older generation academics because I don’t come from the ‘right institution?!’ *gets lunch instead*

Increasing Twitter prominence

Naïve-me: Maybe I could occasionally post some questions, maybe some initial findings, and a few retweets of viewpoints here and there.

Now-me: 1 – Find an article that isn’t mine. 2 – Use its short title as the body of the tweet. 3 – Link to the article in the tweet. 4 – Voilà. (5 – Become baffled at the unoriginality of those who do this all. the. time.)

Meeting other Ph.D students both in and outside of your domain

Naïve-me: They’re probably working on something far beyond what I could understand

Now-me: Welcome to the good ship Ph.D. I see we’re all on it and somehow manage to understand exactly how we’re all feeling despite our huge discrepancies in subject matter…


Am I cynical? Of course, because nothing is perfect and it’s a good idea to keep yourself grounded with a critical eye. Am I going to keep going? Hell yes! Just because the sheen wears off doesn’t mean that you stop using it. I just think it’s useful to keep on the realistic side before throwing myself into another year and a half (and beyond?) of this peculiar world…


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