GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Rethinking What “Academic” Means

In Liana's Posts on 2012/10/10 at 23:45

Liana Silva, writing from Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

In August, Amy Rubens (@ambulantscholar on Twitter) posted a thoughtful post on her personal blog about her plans for the semester and how to continue her research agenda while teaching (and also adjusting to a new town and new school). Amy and I met via Twitter some time in the past year when we were trying to finish our dissertations, balance work along with dissertating, and blogging about our phd exploits. We both graduated last May, and are embarking on new jobs this fall. In her post, Amy pointed out that in order to get her conference presentations done in time she will be blogging about her reading; it’s a way for her to stay accountable and to digest the information on a long-term. She also discussed how she thinks of her blogging as a form of public scholarship, an idea I sympathize with.

As I read her latest post, I felt she was articulating some of my own concerns as I posted earlier this summer at my personal blog: how will I keep an active research agenda while working at the writing center? This may be a little easier for instructors who teach one or two classes a semester or who are exclusively research-driven, but for those of us who balance different obligations (administrative, service, teaching, programming) and still want to do research, this can be a daunting task, especially if our job descriptions do not explicitly include research. Her concern about fitting research in when you no longer have the luxury to take chunks of time for writing, reading, research, and thinking is something I share. This summer, as I became full-time at my job, I lost the days where I could take my daughter to daycare and sit with a cup of coffee and read, write, and research for hours on end. Even though I am happy to be employed, I do miss those times. Now I am trying to find ways to bring my research interests into my work as a way to sustain a research agenda while working full-time.

But Amy’s post reminded me of a post I wrote last year for U Venus titled “How Do You Define an Academic,” where I talked about whether I was still an academic even though I was no longer teaching. At the time I had quit my teaching job, something I had been doing for years, and I felt being a college instructor was directly connected to my professional persona. I had moved into a staff position, one I now recognize as an alternative-academic position, and I was still unsure about where I was, career-wise. The comments sagely pointed out that we do not cease to be academics because we do not teach, and looking back at that post it seems obvious! One commenter pointed out that, if I consider myself an academic what does it matter if others do not see me as such? And I feel much more comfortable in that position. Being an academic is about your approach to questions, your desire to continue thinking about burning questions within your field.

More importantly, Amy made me think about how I could frame my research work as an alternative academic. She cited the U of Minnesota’s definition of public scholarship. Could my work contribute “to the intellectual and social capital of the university and state,” even if the public institution I work for sees my role as staff in a limited fashion? Surely. Maybe I need to start thinking about my work not just as an academic but as a public intellectual. I blog on issues pertinent to academia and to my areas of interest, I curate content at an academic blog that publishes cutting-edge scholarship and writing on sound studies on a regular basis (three years, going strong!), and I continue to work on research within my discipline and within my burgeoning career as a writing center professional (fodder for another U Venus post, I’m sure).

In sum, Amy made me think again about how to define being an academic. It’s not about what job we do, that much I’m sure, but the questions we ask and the approach we take. Maybe the better question is “what is academic?” Academic as adjective instead of noun. I wonder how this plays out for those who are not in traditional, tenure-track positions: is academic more of an adjective than a noun for them? And what are the pros and cons of thinking in those terms?



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