Having seen various articles recently about the destructive aspects of academia around the world, I felt it was time for a quick update on my own experiences in this field and the pressures it entails. Enjoy, disagree or ask me questions. I’m open to all comments.
One of the many things I treasure about my profession is that it allows me to have conversations about museums heritage and other things I am passionate about. I strive to create courses where students get to discovering new aspects of museology to get excited about, to find their niche in the heritage sector. Some of the best discussions happen in classrooms where students come from varied backgrounds, because that way different perspectives and academic influences come together. It demonstrates to me, that any discussion is better when multiple voices are heard, on an equal footing, a debate based on mutual respect and professional arguments.
Undeniably, my chosen career also has its downsides too, i.e. there is a lot of work to be done. Teaching is only one small part of my everyday workload, I am in various committees, I am an editor for various publishing projects, I am in the midst of a very large and important research which will result in a book, published by Routledge, based partly on my PhD thesis, I have MA students to guide, meetings to attend, courses to update, marketing to consider, guest lectures and conference papers to give, papers to edit and student projects to grade. I am working towards being eligible for tenure as well as attempting to build up my own academic credentials on a wider scale. What I mean to say is, there are a lot of different works happening at once and I am bound to let some of them slip by the wayside. I am disappointed with myself every time, but I also understand that this feeling is something which drives me to do better. To keep going despite the chaos.
What I am acknowledging here is the fact that a lot of my time, personal and professional, is consumed by my work. Every time I give a class lecture, I think about how I can improve it the following year. Every time I fail to meet deadlines I think about how I can organise my time better to not make the same mistake again. Every time I visit a museum I am wondering how I can use this experience in my own work. My own research. This last one makes it hard to relax on holidays. I won’t lie.
In the busiest days I wonder if I made the right choices for myself, on any other given moment I can’t wait to keep going and push myself further. This is what it means to be in academia, at least for me. To stand at the brink of your sanity and say “I’m here to stay. I won’t move back, but I won’t jump either.” It‘s a precarious balancing act, to say the least.
Stepping back from this, I realise that I am putting myself under a vast strain. Who wants to spend weekend after weekend, battling the urge to check your work email, feeling guilty about all the work you couldn’t fit in, despite your best efforts?
I want to develop in a way which allows me to be a great academic and still learn how to step away from all that at the end of the day. I don’t know if that’s possible, but I think it’s worth trying.
Me at the Lofotr Viking Museum, during my fieldwork, summer 2018. Going out on a the longboat was a dream realised. The entire fieldwork in UK, Norway and Canada was a life-affirming experience. Images taken by me.
Not everyone understands why I choose this. The general feeling is that it’s unhealthy to devote so much of your time and mental processes to your work. I can’t refute that. All I can say is that in my entire pre-academic career, I never got the satisfaction from my work as I do now. I never got those moments of pure contentment with my position as I do now. I have a voice and its heard by others.
So, what is the point of my post? What greater point am I trying to make here? I don’t think there really is one. No greater meaning to be extracted. It is merely a way to try and demonstrate how I think about my work. How I experience it. All the pressure I feel, which mostly comes from within. To try and show how easy it is to think that none of this is worth the anxieties I experience. The fears that follow. The guilty feelings of not finishing everything that needs to be done. Feeling like I’m letting someone down. Mostly myself.
That’s not how I choose to look at my life though. I like to think that all the moments of weakness and fear are worth working through, learn from and adapt to. Because at the core of it, it demonstrates that I work hard because I have a passion for this job. Because I have a passion for communicating ideas on heritage and museums and culture. That is worth a lot of sacrifice and a few sleepless nights.