I have spent the end of last week at the conference that I have been “preparing” for the last few months and I have been reminded of a few home truths about both myself and academia.
In myself, there are two key things that it is useful to be reminded of – firstly that I am not, and probably never will be, a naturally social creature and secondly that I am not an ambitious or driven individual.
These two points have a profound impact on my experience of conferences and academia in general and contribute to a growing realisation that my lack of engagement with the institutions is not only a protection mechanism to deal with my fear of failure and sense of dread at potential rejection (good ol’ get out before they get you down) but also something intrinsic to my personality that actively sets me apart from ‘successful’ academics.
A conference, I have been repeatedly reminded by research advisors, is a networking opportunity. This is a chance to become known and to have your research become known. To in short demonstrate your publishability and ultimately your employability.
I suck at networking
I cannot without supreme effort of will and/or alcohol walk up to a complete stranger and say “Hi, delighted to meet you. I’m interested in x, how about you?” Every fibre of my being rebels against the notion of inserting myself in other people’s conversation. No amount of certainty that others battle with the same issue and that such an artificial environment requires that course of action compels me to make the move and I am frozen, hovering, silent and awkward on the fringe. I hope that some kindly don will take pity on me or that I will see a familiar face to whom I can at least comment on the paper I heard them give but alas the size of the conference and the pressures of time mitigate against it.
This combines spectacularly with my second problem – the lack of ruthless drive – to make me quite unsuited to an academic career. Despite the fabled ivory towers and the infamous disconnect between ordinary folks and classicists it is increasingly clear that success in a university setting requires a great deal of experience, regular publication and a knack for collecting collaborative projects – all in all money generating potential. Learning for learning’s sake is a hobby and academia must be a career. In itself, although in danger of sacrificing integrity for cash, this does not need to be bad what it is not however is representative of me.
I do not have the awards under my belt from being externally funded through my PhD. I do not have the teaching experience enabled and encouraged by on site learning. Despite 5ish years of research I do not have a publication to my name and boast only 2 CA papers and 2 WIP papers. I have never helped organise a conference or seminar series; hell I have hardly even been to more than a handful. In short I have not prepared myself for a career where outputs and administration (not to mention teaching) form key roles.
I think I am ok with that. In that since taking time off ill it has been clear to me that the likelihood of my reaching the standards required for an academic career in a job market that is shrinking comparative to candidates are low and the chances of finding a job that didn’t expect me to grind myself to dust are lower still. It is still a jolt to realise that the obvious pathway is effectively cut off by lack of experience through the decisions I made (and don’t regret) to, for example, keep working and live with my wife and to acknowledge that despite my internal passion for knowledge I haven’t a gift for dissemination but not a surprise to see that it is not a path I am likely to tread.
So am I still a classicist if I am not in academia? Will I ever finish my PhD? Is there research after completion? Can I fulfil my publishing dreams before distance from the sphere renders me obsolete? And more importantly will I be able to cope without access to current journals online?