Becoming an academic ...
Let us start with a question: is there a fixed formula to become an academic ? Clearly, the answer is ‘no’. However, there are a few things one can essentially do which can help in becoming an academic. Therefore, here, I outline those essentials and my own experience of the journey through the academia. Let’s begin by understanding what does an ‘academic’ mean. This construct entails, partly a teaching job – be in a lecturer or a teaching fellow. While, we associate the term ‘academic’ mostly in relation to Universities, I personally would not rule out college or school teachers who want to consider themselves academics.
While, for most academics, teaching is a part of their job, there are a considerable number of academics who are engaged in full-time research in their own fields of interest and expertise. In the UK, there are two main types of academic jobs/contracts - Teaching and Scholarship (T & S) contracts and teaching and research (T & R) contracts. The latter also is called ‘research active’ contracts. Presently, I hold a T & S contract, that means, most of my working time is officially allocated to teaching. T & R contracts offer officially dedicated time for doing research. However, both categories of jobs require some degree of teaching.
Most academics engage in teaching and/or research, and their contracts may demand them to engage a range of ‘scholarship’ related activities such as experimenting ways in which they will develop and enhance the teaching and learning experience for the student. I feel, a ‘good academic’ needs to consciously commit to and be genuinely interested in their role. Here, I use the term ‘role’ which I feel is a broader concept than just a job. The role of the academic, at least based on my own experience, stretches to the personal life domain. One could argue, this is interference of work within the ‘life’ domain, hampering work-life balance (WLB), yet, it could only be true only for some.
Why do I say, the notion of the academic to a certain extent, conflates our personal and work life domains? Speaking from my own experience, ‘an academic’ is an attitude in a good way, a way of life that needs to be reflexively developed over a long course of time, through reflecting on the daily experiences and crafting a way forward to an academic situation we aspire to get into. Such an activity cannot be limited to an 8.00 to 5.00 job. One can limit their ‘teaching’ to office hours, perhaps, but not the task of ‘becoming’ and ‘living’ an academic life. For example, most of my research ideas are reflexively generated when I have a walk or a run after work around the beautiful ‘Linlithgow loch’. How can I say, my academic life is at office only?
I cannot help relating some of the other activities I undertake in my personal life domain, that adds to my academic life. Writing this blog, itself, is a task that I do during my leisure hours, which clearly feeds into my perception of myself as an academic. Reading academic material, reviewing journal articles, writing journal papers, and thinking about research, also are key activities I engage with in my personal life domain particularly during chosen hours over the weekend are some of the main activities I engage in, within my personal life domain.
Let’s look at what are the so-called essentials to become an academic:
Passion and curiosity for knowledge
Skills in teaching
Ability to conduct independent research
Skills in academic writing
To be continued …
Dr. Lakshman Wimalasena