Academia is honestly not for everyone. After being at university for over a decade, still not sure what to do with my life, my family kept telling me I should just go for it. I thought of all the students I’d have to deal with and all the marking that needed to be done and all the bureaucracy I’d experienced in the various departments I belonged to and shook my head. I could never see myself being an academic.
Never in a million years would I have imagined being married to someone who marks papers for most of the year and deals with students and actually LIKES it. So this interview is a “bit” personal to me – I married an academic! And to be honest, I couldn’t imagine him doing and loving anything else as much as he loves working at universities!
Don’t take my word for it, let him tell it to you what being an academic is all about in his own words!
What is your job / what field are you in?
I am a postgraduate student in cross-cultural psychology and aspiring academic. I conduct research for my thesis, but also teach on various courses at the university.
Do you need a qualification to be an academic? If yes, what and how long does it take?
Working in academia is somewhat different to corporate or freelancing industries. Short version is yes, but gaining your qualification is usually the early stages of your career.
To land a permanent position in academia (e.g. lecturer) a PhD is usually a minimum requirement. This is typically a 9-11 year journey (3-4 undergrad, 6-7 postgrad). However, once you’re at the postgrad level (usually masters level) you will normally be expected to start taking on teaching/tutoring duties, but also start publishing articles in scientific journals. This is essentially the start of a career in academia (especially the publishing part!).
How did you get into it?
I was never sure of what I wanted to do in high-school and just after I graduated my parents signed me up to do a Bachelor of Commerce. As part of that I did a course in Organisational Psychology where I started learning about the mechanisms behind human behaviour. I found that incredibly fascinating, but the whole “application to the business context” bored me to death. I made the decision then to rather go study Psychology full-time without any real idea of what type of job I’ll end up in, only based off how fascinating the subject was to me.
As I progressed through undergrad I found myself becoming more and more passionate about just understanding people; how and why we think and behave the way we do. By the end of my 3 years Bachelors I knew that I wanted to study people, and that’s when I chose to pursue a career in academia. Once I started teaching I found I really loved that as well, which just cemented that plan even further.The humanities should constitute the core of any university worth the name. ― Terry Eagleton Click To Tweet
How long have you been doing this?
About 5 years now.
Do you remember when you first started? Tell us a bit about that.
My “career” really only started in 2013 when I began my Masters degree. That’s when I got into tutoring as well. The following year I landed a job managing a research laboratory and also started contract lecturing.
Do you work for yourself or for a company or organisation?
I work for universities. So organisations.
What’s an average day like for you at work?
Hard to say, days are very variable. It all depends on class schedules, terms, and where you are in your research.
During term, days usually consist of a class or two scattered throughout the day. Time in between classes are spent prepping for classes, marking assignments/tests, having meetings with students, or attending your own classes (if in Masters still). If you are collecting data, this is also usually done during term (varsity students make up a BIG portion of research participants!), so that also needs to fit in between classes.
Holidays are usually spent prepping for the next term and putting in as much time into your research before the next term starts and undergrads steal all your time.
Since I also managed a research lab, I also dealt with postgrads and staff and their research needs throughout the year.
So basically, each day is all over the place depending on what time of year it was.
What has been the most memorable moment for you in your career?
Submitting my thesis and achieving a distinction for it. Second to that was getting the go ahead to set up my own section in a course focused on my specialization, which was quite amazing as I didn’t even have my Master’s degree yet at that time.
What moment would you like to forget?
I once badly bungled a tutoring session when I just started. Have never felt so embarrassed in my life. Almost gave up on teaching forever after that one!
If you could live your life over, would you still do this?
Definitely.Those who know, do. Those that understand, teach. ― Aristotle Click To Tweet
What are some of the biggest challenges about this field?
Landing an actual permanent position. They are few and far between, and you are competing with people from all over the world. There’s also a phrase in academia: “publish or perish!”, which means if you don’t publish articles, your chances of landing (or keeping) a permanent position is slim-none. So continuously pushing out (good) papers can really be tough.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into this field?
Academia is all about a passion for creating and spreading knowledge. If this isn’t a core drive for you, then this is not the right career. Also, don’t focus too narrowly on a single discipline of study. Broaden your scope from early on, inter-disciplinary study is becoming more and more prevalent (and important), so being too narrow in your expertise will really hurt you further down the line.I never teach my pupils, I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn. ― Albert Einstein Click To Tweet
I’m an aspiring academic, father to a cute son (plus 4 fur babies), and husband to an amazing wife. In my free time I consume good food and wine, roughhouse with the kids, watch series, and spread memes and bad puns.