This week, in between trying to get through an email backlog from two weeks of conferences, I’ve been trying to write up a piece of research we’ve done looking at academic identity. Curiously, on Twitter there’s also been a provocative Tweet suggesting:
Which has incited discussion in my Twitter timeline about how much scientists should be investing in their career.
In between those two weeks of conference, in between trying to work on this identity paper on the train, I went surfing for the first time. On Belhaven beach, in a borrowed winter wetsuit, I eagerly became A Surfer. I have none of the accoutrements (although I always find shopping the most fun part of identity formation), and I so far have only one lesson under my belt, but I am firmly convinced this was the identity I was born to carry. Sitting on a sandy white beach and wrapping up warm while I watch the waves is, at present, part of how I conceptualise myself.
I pick up identities easily. For a while I was a diver (until I couldn’t face another open water dive in Scotland), I am occasionally a knitter, always a writer even when I haven’t written anything original in months, and for a long time now, I have been a scientist.
During those two weeks of conference I was tired, and a little homesick, and grumpy about not being able to catch up with my workload on horrible trains. I was resenting every one of those 37 hours I’m contracted to work. I’m also a big proponent of taking conferences at your own pace, but at conferences number 3 + 4 of my year, I found myself pushing my limits to go to more talks, hear more about higher education, and talk to more people.
I care about my identity as an education researcher far more than I ever did about my animal behaviour researcher identity. This was a little surprising to me a couple of years ago when I went into this field. And it gives me very mixed feelings about the discussions regarding ‘science as a job’.
On the one hand, scientists are more productive when they are happy and healthy – and we need to change the conversation around busyness and workload. The way we glorify exhaustion and working out of hours is doing our colleagues a great disservice.
And yet, this is a job that I genuinely love and will work very hard to protect. Its a job that has a lot of benefits, and its a job that other people might want. Can I really say its ‘just’ a job?
In the end, I know that I can. I can because, despite my love for this job, I’m not here because I work harder or better than everyone else. I maybe work harder than some, but I was luckier than others, and I was in the right place at the right time. Beyond this idea that ‘real scientists work even harder’ is an even more pernicious lie. The idea that we get what we deserve.
Academia is not a fair place. We are discriminatory, we judge people on implicit criteria, our metrics are meaningless. Peer review is broken and every way we recognise and reward success in a scientific career is much more about whether you fit the traditional academic mold, rather than any intrinsic value you have.
I would caution all of us who love our jobs, who think that we work harder and better and faster, to just check our privileges. And just hang loose, bro.