On being a bad academic.


I really wasn’t planning to post twice today, or even once frankly, but on the back of my previous post I couldn’t resist. I’m also a terrible academic.

On paper I’m not. I publish stuff and go to conferences and all the proper things. But in terms of how I think and what I value, I’m a bad academic. I do and think a lot of naughty stuff. Like write this blog, for instance.

Here’s the bottom line. What I care about is people doing awesome stuff and telling people about it. Trailing cool new ways to teach? Awesome. Fiddling with soil or chemicals or genes to work out a better way to do things? Awesome. Working out what a 17th century writer or painter was on about? Awesome. But truly, I care not two hoots about the methodology you used to get there. I don’t care if your work is peer-reviewed or considered ‘rigorous’ or published in whatever journal. I don’t care how big your grant was or how hard it was to get. Obviously if you are a scam artist or doing stuff that’s spurious or inethical I’m not going to respect your work, but generally, I just don’t value any of the traditional measures of ‘good research’. I value action and brilliant thinking and creativity, and I value communicating this in immediate and engaging ways.

Here’s some other things I don’t care about. APA. Frameworks. Proper academic language. Word counts. Jargon. Publishing records. Journal rankings. Impact factors. And significantly, people who have built expensive keynoting careers on all of the above without ever actually doing anything awesome at all. We have created this epic monolith of quantifying and accountability measures for an art that is completely subjective and it’s nuts. These measures have resulted in a culture of meeting them at whatever cost and it obscures the fundamental point of what we’re trying to do – do awesome stuff and tell people about it.

So yeah. I’m a bad academic. I write things like ‘so yeah’ and write posts about having no respect for the traditional systems of academia. I tell people they should use Spongebob Squarepants memes in their theses and stop writing papers. And I think there should be more of it. We need more bad academics. We need people to question this stuff and start sneaking some crazy into this system of ours. If enough of us get out our inner nutter we might eventually get to a system where we value what counts in research, rather than counting the value.


PS I hope you have noticed I have started to use pictures. I used to also not care about pictures but I’m trying :).

19 Replies to “On being a bad academic.”

  1. Personally I don’t have enough street cred to call myself an academic, so I stick to “educator” instead (I’ll break out of my IT pigeon-hole if it’s the last thing I do). That said, I completely agree with you.

    I really do cringe whenever I hear the parroted emphasis on “scholarly, evidence-based approaches.” More often than not this seems to be used as a not-so-thinly veiled criticism of innovative approaches than anything else.

    I feel like saying “Of course we put the learning first. Absolutely, without question. Can we move on to the part where we experiment with different options,” or to use another piece of educational jargon engage in “action learning.”

    If part of the learning process is to expose existing assumptions and theories to scrutiny, thereby either reinforcing their accuracy or disproving them, why on Earth are we not doing the same thing with our approach to L&T practice?

    1. …and don’t start me on the insidious spread of ‘evidence-based whatever’. Those people need a dose of good methodology, for sure!

    2. It’s not about street cred – academic vs non-academic is purely a HR thing :). And yeah. Evidence-based. Should have included that in the list of things I don’t care about.

  2. I don’t think you’re a bad academic; I think you’re a thinking academic. But here’s the thing: how do you know which of the awesome stuff that you’re hearing about is actually awesome? You can’t know what is valued in every discipline. Someone tells me they’re doing something awesome in physics, I have to ask them ‘Who says it’s awesome?” because I sure can’t tell. And that’s why peer review matters; that’s what decides on the awesomeness of an awesome claim. And, as far as I’m concerned, the point of talking about methodology is so that people can answer the question “How do I know this?” If you don’t ask and answer that question your awesomeness is diminished, in my eyes.

    You’re right: these two simple things (How do I know this? and Who says it’s awesome) have grown into a stupid, squashing, machine that some people want to think can control academia. But it can’t, because the creativity involved in awesome research can be also channelled through that machine to its own advantage.

    You don’t have to submit to the machi9ne, you have to use it strategically.

    1. It’s a fair point that I don’t know what awesome is in every discipline (although I’ll give it a shot if it uses words I know…!). The problem is traditional (particularly blind) peer review is pretty broken and often a rubbish indicator of awesome. If I don’t know the reviewer from blind Freddy because it’s blind review, how do I know if I can respect their opinion? If we’re talking open peer review via the Twitterverse or blogs or so on, though, then I’m totally with you.

      Really the idea of reputation is completely subjective anyway so ultimately I’ll always be acting on value judgements somewhere down the line but in principle I agree with you.

  3. I have no arguement with you about blind peer review being usesless – the debacle over the MMR vaccine is a good indicator for that. But I really do think we need something with more weight than blogs and twitter and facebook, but something more open than the publishers’ jounral culture. Your generation will have to invent it, I guess.

    1. I think my point was more ‘having a name attached and being able to source information on that person’ (which is what you’re saying too I think) rather than specifically social media. It just happens to be the way that *I* work out someone’s street cred :).

  4. Ha I love this post! I’m a researcher so not an academic, but I feel you regarding “Proper academic language. Word counts. Jargon,” keeping track of word counts can get frustrating -.-

    On a somewhat unrelated note I think the most exciting thing that has happened in the research/academia world lately is that now we can cite tweets! http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/03/how-do-you-cite-a-tweet-in-an-academic-paper/253932/
    Now I’m wondering if someone can cite a facebook status or a “like” hmmm

    1. IMHO you can cite whatever the hell you feel like, citation ‘rules’ be damned. As long as you can show your source and credit the author then there shouldn’t be an issue. You’ve always been ‘able’ to cite tweets, it’s just that MLA finally thought they would bother formally recognising it. Really, a webpage is a webpage is a webpage and if we wait for formal citation systems to catch up with the interwebs we’ll all be waiting a long time :).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *