Working in academia can be a rather isolating experience, especially for those individuals, like myself, who thrive on personal communication. I deliberately chose to pursue a career in Anthropology due to my passion for human interaction, but found that during the course of my doctorate I was anything but ‘interactive’. Many countless hours were spent in front of the computer, a device I learned to love as well as hate, only to emerge from my cocoon as a tired, albeit accomplished doctoral graduate. After receiving my degree, I embarked on the arduous job search only to realize how very few day-to-day people were familiar with my discipline, let alone the topics that I encountered. ‘Do you work with dinosaurs?’ one person asked. ‘Oh, I know! You’re like a pediatrician!’ ‘Well, not exactly,’ I would reply, trying to suppress my frustration.
It was only after many months (now years) of disappointing emails which read, ‘We regret to inform you but…’ that I decided to take unemployment by the horns and redirect my energy towards something more productive. I initially created the educational forum ‘Exploration through Education’ back in 2016 as a way to connect with the public, but also to allow academics and non-academics alike to access research conducted in different fields. Why should people with a general interest in education have to register with JSTOR when they could learn about up-and-coming research through my website and others? But by 2017 I decided to up my game and began a podcast series instead called ‘Coffee and Cocktails’. The theme of the first show? Addressing unemployment issues and job insecurity for early career researchers, the results of which eventually turned into an academic peer-reviewed blog article. While my family was apprehensive that this podcast would eventually become a show for people to jump on their soap boxes, I wanted to re-establish the purpose of dialogue to allow individuals to discuss solutions. As academics continue to advance their careers on a gradually precarious, slippery slope, we need to remember that by interacting with people outside of academia we are only helping to promote our discipline(s) by introducing the research we have done.
Dr Ann Wand is a Research Affiliate of Social and Cultural Anthropology at Oxford University. When she’s not familiarizing herself with social media, or working on her monograph, she is teaching her daughter how to speak ‘American’, and playing with her Dalmatian, Buddy
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2 thoughts on “Encouraging academia to engage with the public: The C&C host offers her thoughts”
One barrier I see is that many people don’t realize how eager academics are to engage. I didn’t realize how much I wanted to go to grad school until I had talked with a law professor and was impressed with his experience and broader views of the area I was looking at.
There may also be a barrier in that many people are getting their news, information and knowledge of the world from Google, and also (gasp) Facebook. Making sure the sources we get our information from are authoritative is essential.
I completely agree, however, I think the issue in academia goes even further in that many academics (at least in the social sciences) are hesitant to engage in non-academic journals/ media outlets as those ‘extra-curricular activities’ are not seen as REF-able, in that academic employers are only concentrating on the academic journals/ books you are focusing on, rather than on the additional non-academic material you are engaging with. This sends a confusing message to those seeking academic employment: one the one hand, the social sciences are desperate for extra funding, which means reaching out to non-academic audiences is a must, but on the other hand, too much time spent outside the academic arena is considered superfluous and taking away precious time which could be spent focusing on publishing academic material.