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How Do You Define an Academic?
August 14, 2011 - 9:30pm

Last May, I left my teaching position without a job prospect in sight. It was a gamble, I admit; at the time I had interviewed for jobs, but I hadn’t heard from anyone yet. As far as I was concerned, I was unemployed as soon as I submitted my final grades and received my final paycheck via direct deposit. (I blogged about it at University of Venus).

As I searched for jobs and dug deep into my brain to figure out what my options were (and worked steadily on finishing Chapter 2 of my dissertation), I thought a lot about that realization I discussed in my last post: I am a writer. I was dedicating more time to writing, and I don’t mean solely dissertation writing. I applied for freelance writing gigs, and started a blog to keep the creative/intellectual energy flowing. Even though being unemployed was scary and frustrating, I had time to write. I was trying to figure out what else I could do other than teach, and I always came back to writing.

Looking for jobs was frustrating and liberating. For the first time in a while I had the chance to think about what jobs I wanted to apply for and what was meaningful to me in a job. I thought I didn’t have a chance at a well-paying teaching position with benefits, not without my Ph.D. in hand, so I didn’t feel limited to those jobs. I didn’t feel anymore like those were the only jobs I should be looking at. And so I kept on looking for jobs where I could use my writing skills.

It’s not that I didn’t write on a regular basis. I am, after all, working on my dissertation. But academic writing (in the guise of my dissertation) consumed my writing life. Because I thought about my dissertation all the time, I felt frustrated. But the worst part was that working on my dissertation had made me doubt my abilities as a writer, at least in the initial phases.

On the other hand, blogging has helped me find again that confidence in my skills. I flesh out my ideas. I tweak, copy, and revise each blog post. I obsess over sentences until they sound right. I’m always thinking about blog topics--some related to my research, others not so much. It has helped even with my own dissertation writing: I write at night, and in the morning I come back to my dissertation ready to hunker down and work.

However, I can’t shake the feeling that perhaps my blog stands in contrast to my academic persona. Even though my posts have a certain measure of intellectual thought—I strive to present complex ideas in a way a broader readership can grasp—they don’t feel academic-y. Smart? Sure. Insightful? I think so. Traditionally academic? Not quite. And I struggled with this. As I read Lee Skallerup Bessette’s fantastic blog series this summer on being a bad female academic, I thought: am I a bad female academic? Am I an academic at all if I’m not in the classroom?

Blogging has prompted me to reflect upon what it means to be an academic. If Lee responded to stereotypes of female academics, my position as an ex-instructor made me think even further. Is academia the only sanctioned space to pursue intellectual inquiry? (Ta-Nehisi Coates touched upon this in a post for The Atlantic last month.) Do I have to be in higher ed to be an academic? And what happens to all this thinking going on in my brain? It needs an outlet, right?

For now, I continue to blog twice a week. Writing feels right. I have yet to figure out where my blog fits on the spectrum of academic blogging, if at all. Maybe it won’t matter. I will continue to think deep thoughts and pursue those lines of inquiry to wherever they may take me. I will continue to write and share with whoever wants to read.

Kansas City, Kansas in the US.

Liana is a regular contributor at University of Venus and a Ph.D. candidate in the English Department at Binghamton University. Follow her on Twitter @literarychica.


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