Some sporadic insights into academia.
Science is Fascinating.
Scientists are slightly peculiar.
Here are the views of one of them.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Cheer up my colleagues: A rebuttal

Let’s say, hypothetically, I did write this article in the Graun about being happy in your work and, theoretically, I had read all of the comments obsessively, then I might potentially reply as follows (if only to get more traffic to my blog):

Naively happy

Naively, I thought a message about being happier would not be all that controversial. It turns out there are a lot of angry academics out there (but I should probably have guessed this from the peer review process). On reflection, there are many places in the article, where for levity or brevity (or because of the reader’s own biases), my message may not have been quite as clear as it ought. Not applying the rigours of science writing to a piece of whimsy I wrote on the tube, on the way home from the pub was amiss of me. Ironically, I cut the following lines from the original:
“I can already hear/ see the acerbic, but witty or maybe just acerbic tweets being prepared to puncture my optimism: “it’s easy for you to say, you’ve made it”, “you don’t know how hard it is for X stage academics in Y field”, “self-satisfied Oxbridge twit”. I am aware that any description of one’s own life can come across as boastful (if good) or lacking in self awareness (if described as bad). To those of you preparing such retorts (the haters), give me the chance to persuade you that academia is fun and to rekindle the spark that got you here in the first place. And if I can’t, at least make your comments funny.”

Right to reply

Maybe I should have left those lines in. However, seeing as I failed to convince everyone first time around of the joy of this career, in the tradition of academic discussion it only seemed reasonable to try and address some of the comments:
  1. On Money. As was pointed out, the statement about money was about research funding rather than salary. Research funding (and whether there is enough of it is another topic) does come from someone else’s pocket and they – the government/ charity chose to support our research over spending it on other things and for that I am grateful (and I struggle to see how this could be wrong-thinking of me). The other perceived point about money was about salaries. I didn’t mention salaries. But the comments do raise an interesting point around pay, gratitude and expectation. My world view is to be happy you have a job and are paid, I had not appreciated that this was a political viewpoint, but am grateful to have been enlightened about my shortcomings. I do think if you are deeply unhappy in your job or with the system, it is worth at least exploring other options.
  2. Use of the word lucky. There is some luck about being the right person in the right place to getting into a tenured job, but on reflection use of the word lucky was misleading, I meant it more in the terms of blessed/ appreciative. I don’t think appreciating the good parts of the job necessarily precludes being aware of the bad parts and trying to change them.
  3. On the comment about writing well for a scientist. I do, don’t I?
  4. Finally, and this sounds more whiney than I want it to but to many of the comments: I didn’t say that actually. I wasn’t saying there are no other worthwhile interesting jobs there clearly are. No I haven’t done many of them (I have been a soldier too, but thought that probably wasn’t going to endear me to the average Guardian reading academic).

Angry like me

PS. Secretly, or not so secretly if you actually work/ live with me, I am pretty angry much of the time. The irony of writing such an upbeat piece was not lost on me or my colleagues. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and be more positive, at least some of the time. On the whole, I stand by my assertion that there are good elements to a career in academia and that these should be celebrated. And as a teaser for wildly optimistic pieces which will appear here and elsewhere in the future, it should be possible to work within a system acknowledging there are parts of it that are broken, whilst still being mindful of the pleasures, and try to find or recapture the joys and the positives. Except of course on the day when I am an angry academic too (grant/ paper rejections), on those days I agree with you, smash the system, burn it all down.

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