My two closest pals are what I like to call ‘new academics’. They are both extremely smart and have a love and passion for critical thought, interrogation, investigation and learning. What differentiates them from more ‘traditional’ academics, I believe is that they largely have a practical approach to their discipline. They are in no doubt that the pursuit of a fulfilling, financially secure and respected career is as valid a pursuit as academia, though I seriously doubt that traditional academics would feel similarly.
These old-school academics appear to want to shroud themselves in a cloak of what they would fiercely argue are discipline-altering ideas, and general snootiness towards anyone who cannot understand their research, despite their actively seeking to do their very best not to clearly express said ideas, lest they be thought to be inferior or facile.
OK, yes, I realise I am being very harsh here. Perhaps these people are just insecure and exist in an environment that is full of backbiting and insecurity; one full of individuals who can’t express any generosity of spirit by acknowledging a colleague’s excellence … kinda exactly like the corporate world, no? So why this (perceived) disdain for the(possibly) less cerebral pursuits?
I watched my friend deliver a talk at a colloquium yesterday, with two other speakers on vaguely related topics. The first guy was LITERALLY incomprehensible. I can’t pinpoint one take-home idea from his 25-minute ramble. He read from notes from his dissertation, I’d assume, put up a few pompous and sleep-inducing slides and really just spoke *at* the audience.
A complete failure to convey ideas.
The third guy was almost as bad as the first as he didn’t even lift his eyes from his dissertation as he read to his audience… as he *read* to people who’d come to hear him talking about his ideas; to hear him engaging with them about literature and to go home thinking about implications of a certain field of research.
The second speaker was my friend, and I trust you’ll believe that it is not bias speaking when I say she was tremendous, and literally woke people up who had dozed off during the first presentation by the windbag. She woke them by, firstly, electing to speak rather than read, even if that raised the possibility of forgetting certain points she may have wanted to make (not that she did, as far as I am aware). Secondly, she expressed her ideas clearly and in as upfront a way as possible, allowing for possible criticism by her colleagues – an exceedingly brave move in the world of academia. Thirdly, she made the story she was telling human by expressing the inescapable human condition in an extremely honest way: things change, people change, ideas change and what you were certain about two years ago may not hold as true today.
Pass with honours.
I hope she, and my other pal who loves her field of study and is more enthusiastic about combining her field of academic research and work than just about anyone I know, continue to subtly change universities. Viva the new academics.