*disclaimer – don’t listen to me, I don’t know what I am doing. These views are my own, I am a total noob, these observations are informed by purely anecdotal experiences which I have had across varying institutions and spaces – not data, not reliable evidence, blah blah, etc. etc. please don’t sue me.
Observations of a baby academic*
I am approaching my 30th birthday, and I have been reflecting on what I have learned so far, in my three decades of life. Looking at my journey, I think I am pretty late to be starting my career, compared to my peers. In my teens and early 20s I was a student, I started my family, and I started foster caring at age 21. I have been busy, and done things I am proud of, but I have never had a Mon-Fri, 9-5 job before. After completing my Masters Degree I embarked on my role as a school teacher, but with small children at home I declined the full-time roles I was offered and instead chose regular casual work (which I loved). When I was finally ready to work full-time (this year), I surprised myself and changed directions completely – deciding on a career in Academia, diving into yet another Degree, starting my pursuit of a PhD.
So this year has been my first year of coming in to work five days a week, managing a work email, and having to navigate the incredibly diverse terrain that is inherent in a workplace that has over 1000 employees, over 30,000 students, and research projects which span across multiple universities and institutions.
Also, I am not from an academic family, my family are mostly tradies, so the CULTURE of this space, has taken a lot of getting used to. A lot of it is completely unfamiliar to me, and it can be tricky to work out who to ask for guidance on understanding the social and relational aspects of the space. Also, I have not yet decided if I want to assimilate into the existing culture, or drag my own culture in with me. SO far I think I am at 50/50. I have been told I should be more ‘meek and mild’ but if I were meek and mild, I probably would never have made it here in the first place. Either way, moving from student to academic, in this space, has taken conscious getting used to… Here is what I have observed so far:
- Working in academia is a lot like being at a really large family reunion. Everyone seems to know each other to some extent, there are a lot of complex back stories, strange and unexpected connections across faculties and institutions, and a lot of academics are partnered/married/divorced from one another.
Note: None of this info is never is in anyone’s online staff profile. Tread lightly, big feelings may be involved.
- Everyone is obsessed with talking in acronyms.
I spoke with the PVC, about the HEPP, to see if the DVC-A would come talk to FEDUA, but they were at AARC, and missed the zoom at CEHEE. Again, Google is often not that helpful in figuring out what was said.
- Names and titles are weird, and complicated.
Dr. Prof. Mrs. Mr. Ms. Emeritus. Associate Prof. Head of School. Director. Dean. Pro Vice Chancellor. Chief Investigator. Every person, has multiple titles. Some people care about how you address them, others get awkward if you use their titles. You won’t know until you either get it right, or wrong.
- You will learn more in the staff room, than a classroom.
When you work with people who are experts in various fields, lunch time chatter is on a different level. Also – When you talk, people are more likely to listen, so be mindful of what you say and write. As a student, if you critique a journal article, or a study, the only person who knows is your tutor who is marking your assessment. As an academic, if you critique a study, or any body of work, your work is not private, it is heard because it is published into the discourse – and can be responded to. You have transitioned from ‘outsider’ to ‘insider’ and this privileges your voice and raises the responsibility that goes along with what was previously just ‘opinion’.
- Appearances are deceiving, or at least, not overly helpful. In a University space, you cannot tell if you are speaking to a student, or a colleague, or the Deputy Vice Chancellor based only on appearance. Students, academics, and professional staff will at times all dwell in the same spaces, and often use similar language conventions, and similar clothing – this is especially true when all gathered for a formal event. Recently I commented to someone that I liked their skirt, I later found out that I had been speaking with the Mayor.
- Just being nice to everyone is actually not enough… Following on from the above space, you often have no idea ‘who’ someone is until you’re into a conversation (or worse still, well after it ends). I am a bubbly and friendly person, but being ‘friendly’ to everyone is really not enough here, that is too simplistic an idea. So when navigating unfamiliar spaces, and groups, don’t be too informal, or it will be received as disrespect/unprofessional. Don’t be too formal, or you will be seen as unapproachable (and stuck up). Note: I have in no way managed to master this yet, I suspect I never will.
- As an academic, other academics often have time for you. This is probably my FAVOURITE part of the journey. As someone who gets seriously fan-girl over some academics, it is incredibly cool to be able to send an email, or make a call, and get a response from someone you admire so much. Best still is getting to have a coffee or lunch with them. Biggest culture perk I have experienced so far. *tell me all the things please!*
- Academics are very active on social media.
I try and encourage my students to follow academics, they disseminate both scholarly articles, opinion pieces, and helpful hints.