“Offering high quality research and teaching support requires a good level of understanding of academic practice. While not all professional staff need to be academic, there is a need in universities for a band of staff who bridge the two much larger groups.” – by Anonymous Academic, September 2017, The Guardian.
When I read the article ‘Work in an academic-professional hybrid role? Say goodbye to career progression’ in The Guardian a few weeks ago, there were many things that rang true. Yet I felt that ‘anonymous’ didn’t tell the whole story.
Sure, hybrid academic-professional roles can be neither fish nor fowl, the definition of a hybrid, really. Like ‘anonymous’ my credentials in the academic world aren’t shabby, and neither are my professional ones, either. I bring to my professional role in academia the expertise of someone with a doctorate and published and well cited research, as well as 15 years experience as a professional journalist on major publications.
But it all feels as stitched together as Frankenstein’s creature.
Then again, isn’t this the reality in today’s academic workforce?
‘Anonymous’ bemoans the fact that hybrids “struggle with identity, career progression and acknowledgement of the effort that goes into juggling the dual roles of being a professional and an academic.”
Sure – but it’s a damn sight better than the alternative – the nail biting hand to mouth existence of a sessional lecturer. I could easily go down that path and opt for sessional lecturing, having a place (well, hot desking) at the ‘high table’ of academia. Having – even if the umbilical cord is tenuous – an academic institution to link my name and research. In other words, get paid for maybe 24 weeks a year.
Or: I can do what I am doing. Have an interesting, ongoing professional position in a university where I can use my research skills, engage in teaching, communicate academic research and knowledge to a wide audience and write for a living. And do my own research and creative practice after hours, with the tagline “Independent researcher”.
I have two children to support as a single parent, so I figured I can suck it up and ditch the ego ride of calling myself a full time academic, a full time (albeit sessional) lecturer. Like the savvy hybrid, I can make the best of both worlds, and of course, the university benefits from my hybrid skills and expertise.
And, likewise, I benefit from an ongoing position at the university and all its benefits. And that is the way of the academic world of 2017.
“Researchers seem to be dropping like flies — leaving or just being left behind. Many reasons are to blame, including overproduction of graduates, casualisation of the workforce, corporatisation of universities, disillusionment, disenfranchisement, increased competition for funding or just natural attrition.” – University researchers Need More Than A PhD, The Australian Higher Education, October 18, 2017.
Mind you, this is nothing new to me. I have always been a scrappy hybrid – and with that comes hybrid vigour. Not for me the luxury of time off each week to study for my doctorate while I worked full time in an academic role. I have heard of the indulgence of a semester off (paid by the university) for academics to finish their doctorates – even after they have been taking their own sweet time doing theirs part-time.
This hybrid did her doctorate full time in four years – while holding down a full time professional job (and raising two young children). Did I mention I also taught a Masters subject on top of that work load? And published and presented at conferences. I got no time off whatsoever, save what I earned myself as annual leave and overtime – and my line manager took pity on me at the very end and threw in an extra few days leave when it looked as if I might have a meltdown. In fact, most of the time it was my workplace in the university rather than the academic staff who were most supportive while I completed my doctorate.
Of course, none of that guaranteed or got me a foothold in academia after all. Reality check. That’s life. Welcome to Academia in the 21st Century. I shouldn’t complain – I was in print media in the glorious halcyon days – and everything is always about timing. But forgive me if I am snarky about the cushy ride delivered to others in academia, simply because they got in at the right time, not because they deliver any real benefit to the university. Hybrids can be like that – we want to shake up the status quo. Look at Frankenstein’s creature. Poor hybrid, more intelligent than the saps around him, a well-read autodidact who had to suffer fools. He didn’t take it lying down, either.
Hybrids abound in universities, but we are not always easy to spot. Maybe we keep our heads low, because we don’t want to pay attention to ourselves – academics guard their turf more viciously than my Corgi defending the footpath outside the front door. They can also be incredibly arrogant and very defensive when finding they are dealing with a hybrid. Sad to say, maybe no one really likes a hybrid.
“If you don’t do teaching or research, then (academics believe) you are just a parasite,” one correspondent says. “When it all goes wrong, I have to bail the academics out,” complains another.” – John Gill ‘By the Role Divided’, Times Higher Education.
Not that we hybrids are complaining. At least we have job, and we are grateful for it. Theorist Donna Haraway famously said she’d rather be a cyborg than a goddess – well, hybrids would rather have professional jobs in academia than nibble at the edges of it, trying to survive as sessional staff with their hands out with begging bowls, asking for more, please…