Academia and I go to Marriage Counselling

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Disclaimer: this post is more a chance for me to get stuff off of my chest. I can’t see it being a major source of assistance, unless you’re going through something similar.

Let’s get to the point: I’m falling out of love with academia.

Okay, we haven’t been seeing each other for that long and perhaps there are reasons to explain why we’re seemingly on edge with each other most of the time, but all the signs are there.

To begin with, there’s the thesis. This was a point of contention between us to begin with, but in the end we both decided to just let it be and see what happens. Like a small puppy that couldn’t keep its attention on one thing for more than 3 seconds, it started off wild and unfocussed. But, after two years of development, it has matured a lot… but it still wakes me up in the early hours wanting attention. Academia wants me to keep going with it, but I’m having my doubts. Maybe in the next year its independence will grow even further, but for now I’d just like to get a good nights’ sleep.

Academia has a number of quirks that make me feel a bit uncomfortable. I know, I know; any healthy relationship is about give and take, but hear me out. Academia has this thing where they love to see people publish work, often in journals that pay you nothing, that reap enormous profits every year, and that are organised according to some arbitrary collection of figures making one inherently ‘better’ than the other. While my first publication was successful, my second has been a completely different story. I cannot bring myself to read the vague advice, petty corrections and personal attacks I received in my last review (funnily enough, they always come from one subsection of journals… but I’ll keep schtum on that for now). But academia insists that I keep publishing, otherwise our future is bleak. Having spent days upon weeks upon months getting things together on a paper that is still unpublishable, this is pushing my stress to unhealthy levels.

Although academia focuses on research, they also have this thing about teaching. This is something that we agree on and something that I cannot wait to start doing again! My sights are set on the start of 2017 when I get to go and tutor young linguists in the basics of the field of study, and I’ve got plenty of ideas on how to make these sessions engaging, informative and collaborative, all to ensure that students can progress. The only problem I have is that I only get to do it for a few weeks out of every year, and academia has been suggesting we get together with this thing called the TEF. The TEF is another one of those arbitrary scores that academia likes so much, and it feels a bit like a glammed-up Ofsted for universities – you know, the ones who can judge your and your entire workforces’ teaching ability on the basis of one 15 minute observation? That’s demoralising, but academia seems to be pushing forward regardless.

There’s one final thing which is causing grief, and this is a pretty big one. Academia has a tendency to get together with their friends, but then make them feel (falsely) high and mighty. When this happens, academia seems destructive in their manner, not supportive. The best example I can think of is when academia and linguistics get together. While it’s not a dead cert, there are times when academia will make linguistics feel like there are only certain areas of study that are ‘worthy,’ or that should be focussed on to the detriment of others. I know of nationwide and international organisations that seem to have fallen into this trap and who focus so heavily on, say, morphosyntax and Transformative Grammar, that all other fields are viewed as ‘less-than.’ I’ve been trying my best to get academia to stop having this influence on such fields, telling them that we cannot really appreciate what happens in language until we openly accept people from various branches in our research, our events and our discipline as a whole. But academia has a very influential method of coercion, often promising a sense of false superiority in return for following narrow-minded doctrines. Sadly, from the exclusionary nature of some people and institutions in the realm of linguistics, it doesn’t look like this will be changing soon.

So tell me…is it a rough patch, or are we approaching the point of no return? As much as I want to salvage things, the combined stresses of the thesis, publishing, changes to teaching, and the pseudo-hierarchy found in the field of linguistics, are becoming too much to keep up with. I know I have a lot to offer, and that together we could do some incredible things… but the spark is gone.

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