Earlier this year I had a coffee with a former mentor who was encouraging me to apply for a research post at his institution.
During the conversation he expressed that now was the time to consider my future career prospects more carefully than ever as I was at a crossroads.
I could either continue down the hybrid practitioner/researcher/manager route or throw myself fully into research and build an international academic reputation, publishing a stream of peer review articles and books.
I got the strong impression that he was pushing me towards the latter but ultimately after much deliberation with friends and family I chose the former.
I have been having a professional identity crisis of late, having now worked in news rooms and universities for about an equal amount of time.
I loved being a journalist but at the time found that there was little career progression and the industry had become rather formulaic. I sought out a more intellectual challenge and so left to pursue a PhD. I quickly picked up teaching, which was far more lucrative than journalism, and discovered a clear career ladder which I steadily climbed.
But in that time the journalism industry has rapidly changed, and so have I. The initial satisfaction and novelty of publishing research articles in journals and chapters in books, and presenting at conferences, has been replaced by a longing to publish pieces of journalism and get paid for it, as a professional.
Thanks to my academic career I now have the experience – and confidence – to pitch stories to national news organisations and win commissions. In recent months I have had several articles published in The Guardian and sold stories to the tabloid press.
At heart I am a practitioner – a journalist, rather than a journalism studies academic.
I may have a PhD and I may run a university journalism department but essentially I spot and write stories.
This became most apparent to me when I received two sets of news – one academic, the other practical – in the same week.
The first was that one of my research papers had been selected for the prestigious and competitive Future of Journalism conference in Cardiff. I was obviously delighted.
But then came the second piece of news. A feature pitch I had made to The Guardian had been commissioned and was to be published online and in the newspaper. I was ecstatic, thrilled, excited and proud.
This really sealed the decision for me. I did not want to apply for a job that focused entirely on research and theory teaching and left little or no room for freelancing and practical teaching. Indeed I am considering cutting back my academic work to make more room for freelance journalism.
I am most grateful to my research mentor for helping me make this decision, even if it is not the one he intended. I chose the other turning at the crossroads and now I am excited to see where it takes me.
Fortunately in my current job I am able to satisfy my needs as I get research time as well as self managed time to conduct freelancing and a range of practical and theoretical modules to teach on. I am not pigeon holed.
But the sad reality is that at a lot of institutions there is a split between university teachers – the practitioners, and lecturers – the researchers, and actually I want to have my cake and eat it.
I enjoy the intellectual challenge of research and I love the responsibility of managing a team of staff but I also want my research to inform my practical work and I want to continue working as a journalist, albeit with a sounder theoretical grounding.
But I do wonder about my future career prospects as this Academic Anonymous blog post illustrates.
I will just have to see where the hybrid road takes me.
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