Monday, 2 April 2012

Academic Blogging Day

This a wheeze designed to explain to people what academics do on a daily basis. Given that my students think that my waking hours are spent Tweeting and being sarcastic, it's an opportunity to set the record straight.

Nobody would claim that an academic's life is physically arduous. I work long hours, but mostly doing things I love. There are stresses: institutional pressures, demands from colleagues and students which aren't always compatible, the competitive demands to produce more (any, in my case) research, and the emotional commitment required to be a good academic. We're like doctors: we become attached to our students and get upset when we lose one. The worst days are when we have to put one down. It's tempting to say we're more like vets than doctors: sometimes the patients don't understand what we're doing to them and try to bite us… 'What's that, Skippy? You reckon Frankenstein might be an early Victorian example of opposition to plastic surgery? Well, this little fella's reached the end of the line and sadly, we're going to have to put him out of his misery… Tune in to next week's episode when we see how some first-year pups cope with Karl Marx'.

But that would be mean. The greatest joy, as well as the greatest worry, comes from the students. Today, for instance, I've read chunks of two students' final-year dissertations. Both are promising, one is near complete. I've coached a friend about his PhD proposal presentation, and talked to a very engaging third-year about her dissertation and time here. She's one of the students I'll miss: shy and retiring in person, yet witty and bright on paper. She had the misfortune to turn up just as Neal was about to start his presentation run-through, and now knows more about hemp-line heat retention than any humanities student ever.

What else have I done? Lots of admin. A little reading, some review-writing, and I've begged a few more days to get a book chapter proposal written. The afternoon holds the promise of much marking, my least favourite part of the job.

It's not mining or bin-emptying. I'm warm, secure and paid for reading, writing about and talking about books - which is what I'd do for free anyway. No job is perfect, but mine's better than most.

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