domingo, 10 de janeiro de 2016
The Joy of Teaching
Everybody loves a moan, but we must temper our negativity. Here are nine things I love about this profession
By Anonymous academic
Don’t worry, be happy – there may be difficulties, but academia is still worth celebrating. Photograph: Alamy
As a tribe, we academics enjoy complaining. There’s too much teaching, too many committees, not enough funding. The reviewers are too mean, the houses too expensive, the wages too low. But I would like to stick my head above the parapet (anonymously) and propose a new idea for 2016: let’s celebrate academia for a change.
We need to remember that this profession is fun. We need to rekindle the fires that got us here in the first place. Yes, there are some rubbish bits. But when I take a break from complaining and reflect, there are lots of things that make me happy – and should make you happy too. Here are nine of them:
1 Everyday People
The longer you work in academia, the wider your global network becomes. We have the privilege of working with brilliant, interesting people from around the world. Many are fascinated by the same obscure minutiae we are and will happily discuss them late into the night, often over a beer, in an interesting exotic place, or Brussels. We should bask in the company of our peers.
2 My Generation
Working with students allows you to reflect on the joys of youth through the mirror of their experiences. Undergraduates have a limitless capacity to imagine that they are pioneers; that their ironic fashion is the first of its kind; that no one else has ever pulled an all-nighter to complete a assignment because they were too busy organising an ironic fashion show.
Celebrate your acquired wisdom and maturity (while missing grant deadlines because you are too busy organising your children’s fashion show).
3 Getting Better
I don’t have much experience of the world outside academia, but compared with my short time as a night cleaner in a refrigerated yoghurt warehouse, working in a university is exciting. The job presents endless chances, particularly when it comes to learning.
You learn more because you are teaching a new course, you learn more because it drives your research. But most of all you learn more because it’s fun, because you love your subject and because it’s the essence of what we are all here to do.
4 Heal the World
Our work has societal value (measurable value, if you believe the research excellence framework). That is clearly a good thing. It is also a shield for your ego when faced with friends from your undergraduate days who are now earning millions in the City.
Remember this higher calling. It will take the sting out of the fact that your peers can afford houses in Oxford/holidays/Waitrose.
5 Money, Money, Money
We get to be the experts in our fields. We may not get to spend as much time as we would like on our research, and we may not get as much funding as we want to support it.
But we are extremely privileged to be given money, most of which comes from other people’s hard work – taxes, charity, benevolence – to indulge our personal curiosities, which, when you stop to think about it, is amazing.
6 Time is on my Side
As an academic, you are more or less your own boss. That means you can find the things you enjoy and do them: I get deep joy from taking a break to play football during the working day, for example.
There are disagreeable tasks: admin, marking, grant-writing. But the bad bits shouldn’t take all of your day – if they do, drop some. It is acceptable to say no. And where it is not, it is normally possible to shape courses and committees to reflect your research interests.
7 Under Pressure
Remember, there are far more stressful jobs out there – some involve people shooting at you (soldier), shouting at you (police) or dying on you (doctor).
There are others that involve horrible hours, terrible working conditions and repetitive tasks, but luckily I stopped being a post-doc.
8 The Kids are Alright
If my relentless optimism isn’t enough for you, think of the children/students.
Complaining about the stress of an academic job may be a cunning plan by established faculty to stop newer, smarter people snapping at their heels. But it isn’t fair on the next generation and it is a waste of the time, energy and money we have invested in getting them across the line.
9 Don’t Worry, Be Happy
In conclusion (and for the sake of balance), I do accept that there are problems with the system. There are fewer entry-level posts, and those that do exist come with considerably less job security than they used to. The demands of the career have changed significantly and it is much harder to get that critical break-in grant than it was 20 years ago. But dwelling on the negative doesn’t actually help anyone.
Happier people are healthier, more productive, and have better hair (Consider Donald Trump – he is really angry and has terrible hair). So, in 2016, let’s turn the tea room discussion around and celebrate what we have.
This week’s anonymous academic is a senior lecturer in biomedical sciences in London.