On Saturday 29th October, The Rt Hon Glyn Davies MP declared on Twitter that: “Personally, never thought of academics as 'experts'. No experience of the real world.”. This is a widely held, but wrong belief and twitter was quick to point this out to Glyn Davies and the world. The reasons why fell into three categories – prior experience, the job of a modern academic and the research we do.Personally, never thought of academics as 'experts'. No experience of the real world.— Glyn Davies (@glyndaviesmp) October 29, 2016
I've seen things you people wouldn't believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion...and I worked in Asda once #realworldacademic— Martin George (@martingeorge) October 30, 2016
The first stereotype is that academics have never left university and are perpetual students so cut off from the “real world” of work outside the ivory tower. But it was clear from Twitter that academics come from a huge range of backgrounds working in environments as diverse as prisons, schools, hospitals, cell centres, shops, banks and the armed forces. This work was either done in a previous life or as a means to subsidise student fees in order to become established. Or in several cases as part of the academic role - as Doctors, dentists, civil engineers, scientific advisors, legal experts etc.
The second stereotype of academics is that we sit in common rooms smoking pipes, drinking sherry pondering the nature of life. If only! I’ve written about this before, but the life of a modern academic is extremely varied. As researchers, we are essentially running an average size, not for profit, small business (SME) with an annual turnover between £100-500k. In order to sustain that company we need to apply for funding; manage the funds we have; purchase materials and equipment – some of which is extremely specialist, even unique; train and manage staff working with extremely dangerous materials; publicise the current work and plan the next round. As teachers we need inspire and educate the next generation with teaching styles from 300 students in one lesson to small group tuitions to practical labs and thesis supervision. On top of this we are expected to help with the administration of large complex organisations with upwards of 10,000 staff. All of which are skills I would argue are pretty standard in the ‘real world’ outside academia.As an academic am a fundraiser, publicist, writer, manager, mentor, teacher:which aspect of that isn't in the real world? #realworldacademic— Dr John Tregoning (@DrTregoning) October 30, 2016
The final pernicious stereotype is that the research we do has no impact on the problems of people who are not academics; essentially we are using public money to navel gaze enabling us to show off to other academics for no actual purpose. This is also false. There is an increasing emphasis on the ‘impact’ of our work and whilst there are arguments for whether pure research is better than applied and whether the metrics of impact are valid, there are clear examples of how academic research directly impacts on the world outside the universityWouldn't it be nice if the awful, incurable brain diseases I'm studying weren't real. #realworldacademic https://t.co/A025TkKFkT— Egle Cekanaviciute (@mousegle) October 30, 2016
However the final word needs to go to this gem, for pointing out the irony of an MP critiquing the worldliness or otherwise of academics: