I’ll let you all into a secret, as much as I am passionate about my PhD as something I wanted and needed to write, I’m not that excited about academic research as a whole. My love was always for the topic itself, interest and passion for it and of the associated good it might do, mainly outside academia (more on that later) In my time as a baby academic (or teaching PhD student) what excited me? what got me up in the morning? it was teaching. At Graduation, my students cheered for me so loudly and that, right there was the moment it was all worth it.
When teaching works it’s like flying, it’s also one of the most important things any of us can do formally or informally. What is more important than passing on information? To quote Alan Bennett:
“Pass the parcel. That’s sometimes all you can do. Take it feel it, and pass it on. Not for me, not for you, but for someone, somewhere, one day. Pass it on boys”
And I passionately, wholly believe in that. However you do it in life, we can all pass the parcel. But if you are an academic you have a damn responsibility to do it. And you may say you are by writing, researching, but let’s be blunt, who reads that if you don’t teach it? Five people in your field? Who will probably be only doing so to say you’re wrong or steal it.
You have a moral obligation to teach what you research, to pass on the information that got you to the point where you were able to research, otherwise who is going to carry it on after you? it’s a selfish narrow minded approach. And one that I see all too often.
And heaven forbid anybody be a school teacher, or an educator outside of formal education. I assume for some those people rank just above service industry and admin folks (who work a damn cite harder than some academics I know and deserve more credit and pay than many the academic too).
Most of us from less privileged backgrounds don’t think that there is one career and one alone that the world owes us, or one way to go about it. Again, don’t misunderstand me, I admire passion, I admire ‘I’m going to do some of this one way or another’ What I don’t admire is the insinuation that the world, and a very specific occupation, owes you a living. What you do is find another way, another path, to do what you want. Even if that means not doing the thing you want to straight away. But I’m tired of the academic attitude, that that’s all there is, academia or failure.
I’ve been lucky post-PhD to get opportunities to use the research in a few small ways outside academia, in my case in theatre, which has opened my eyes to the fact that people are interested in and value my work in different ways. And that gives me hope for working elsewhere, working in something I am really passionate about and may end up being far happier doing.
That won’t happen tomorrow, it may not happen in ways I expect or even want at first, but it may happen, and if I do end up with a role there I will count myself as successful, not a failure for leaving the academy.
Because just talking about it, thinking about it, thinking about returning to the career in theatre I was chasing, or about working with charities I feel passionate about gets me excited, it motivates me, and it makes me think the PhD was worthwhile, because I’d be doing something with it. If I worked putting on plays that meant something, that were about the work, about theatre and creativity, to me it would mean something while drawing on my PhD. If I worked in education and theatre, or outreach in charities, I’d be drawing on those skills, I’d be doing something important and using what I’d learned. I’d be using my PhD (and skills) in the ‘real world’ I would in fact be ‘passing the parcel’ And I couldn’t ask for any more than that.
And that way might well be outside of the hallowed academy. And for some of us, that might be the right path. The path where we will do more work, do better work. And some academics need to wake up and drop the attitude problem that somehow seeking work outside of academia is somehow a failure. Not all people with an engineering degree become engineers, not all Chemists work in a lab, people take their skills and use them elsewhere. And PhD’s can do the same-and still be following their passion.
So does that mean it’s time to do? I don’t know yet. But I’m certainly slowly edging towards that conclusion.