What do you get when you combine downtime, chats with colleagues, and acceptance of what lies beneath? (Caution: contains rambling and diagrams with lots of circles).
If anyone reading this follows me on Twitter, you’ll know I’ve been silent for about a week. Although this was something I’ve been wanting to do for a while (no, really… reflect on how much time you spend on there; it’s scary!), the breaking point came when it felt less like my source of outreach and interaction with academics, and more a non-stop stream of mental aggravation.
Despite having had a good summer, the work side of my life had taken a dip: the direction of my thesis had changed once again; I was unsure if any of the work I had been producing made any sense; one paper was rejected yet again while the submission of another seemed to have disappeared into the ether; my teaching timetable was changing every other day… and it’s at times like those that I would turn to Twitter to gather some inspiration, but with everything else going on, it just wasn’t happening. Instead, it felt like everyone else was shining brightly and making successful strides towards their next publication, their next class, or their next job role.
But, I had forgotten a few things that were so prominent to me when I started 2 years ago, and it was taking time away from Twitter, spending time with colleagues and friends, and considering just what ‘academia’ really is when you peel back the veneer, that got me back to where I am now.
Let’s talk social media. Although I haven’t seen it doing the rounds in a while, there were a spate of articles such as this one, commenting that what we present on social media is generally the side we want others to see. The idealised side. The filtered side.
The side that, actually, never tells the full story.
A few years ago, a fellow postgrad presented an analogy of how we often compare a third persons’ successes with our own trial runs, or “comparing their highlights reel with our outtakes.” I always kept that in mind when reading others’ work and then looking at my own writing, but it was only until recently that I extended this to social media. This can be used at any moment, but especially when academics are involved! I know of some academics who will only ever post an update to promote/share/brag about their latest publication, or others who recount how wonderful it is that their class of 200 undergrad linguists always hand in their assignments on time, and what a down-to-earth, brilliant teacher they must be.
Puh-lease. I understand that self-promotion through such channels is becoming more important, but there’s a distinct difference between ‘sharing your successes’ and ‘sounding like a jackass.’ This is the gauge I’ll be using to ensure that the never-ending stream of 140 character comments, gifs, and pictures of cats, is one filled with collaboration rather than over-inflated egos.
I also recently had the chance to sit down and chat with my supervisors, colleagues and friends, and just let it all out. The revelation from this is related to the title of this post: I was no longer doing research because it was something I wanted to do; I was doing it to fulfil the needs of academia… and even now re-reading that last sentence feels bizarre!
I love languages, linguistics, teaching, among other stuff. I’m doing this Ph.D because I get to work in the areas that I love and call it a job. However, it’s all too easy to suddenly feel the pressure from the nebulous concept of ‘academia:’ the pressure to publish; to present and host; to be part of the best institution; to engage in insane levels of outreach; to climb up these arbitrary institutional rankings and let the world know about the relative splendour of your institution at any given moment…
Welcome to the underbelly of the beast; the part of academia that you don’t see until you’re immersed up to your neck and frantically treading water. Some people thrive in this environment. Their life is their work. They never switch off. They need to have those three publications every year in those specific journals. They need to shout about how they’re in the top 3 in the latest league tables, or how their ideas are more developed than others, or even have the audacity to sneer while explaining how their work is ‘more important’ than others. This even goes beyond the personal and into the institutional, with one such organisation claiming to represent the face of linguistics in the UK, while actively rejecting and refuting the work of a large proportion of linguistic disciplines. Why the hell would any sane person do that?!
The utterly false sense of superiority that comes with being in a certain institution, having ‘x’ amount of publications in a ‘high impact journal,’ or by exploiting close connections to ‘get ahead’ in a race that won’t have any winners.
Of course, there are other problems: the flawed publishing process, the pressure to publish creating skewed and/or outright false data, the seemingly endless levels of middle management… but I’ll wrap it up here for now.
The point is this: there are problems like this in all walks of life. For me, these problems seem to be dealt with in a similar fashion to the process of grieving: I deny the problems exist, I get angry because they exist, I become depressed about the situation, I revise the situation based on human contact, and then I get to the point where I accept it. Yes, I wish I could get rid of the elitism and the constant oneupmanship, but it doesn’t mean that I have to be a part of it. As long as I do what I’m doing because I want to do it, then I know I’ll be playing my part, and I won’t dread having to do this final year of work.
So… I have one more year to go before I make the next big move. To paraphrase what a colleague of mine said: “no-one will lie on their deathbed wishing they’d published more,” so I’ll be putting ‘me’ back into the work I do.