Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The kind of academic I want to be

I’m doing a PhD at the moment and my ambition, when (God willing) I finish, is to then pursue a career in academia as a researcher and lecturer.  I really believe that God has placed this desire in me, so either he wants me to carry it out or else he wants me to want to carry it out for some other reason.

But I don’t just want to be an academic.  It’s not even that I want to be a successful academic (although that would be nice).  I want to be

The idealized academic: respected researcher; experienced supervisor; reasonable; balances guidance with license and specific support with spoonfeeding.
– G. Rugg and M. Petre, The Unwritten Rules of PhD Research (OUP, 2010)

OK, that passage only describes in what way an academic is idealized with respect to supervising PhD students.  With respect to other academic qualities, this is the kind of academic I would like to be:

He is genuinely searching for the truth, and treats other researchers as people in it together with him in this pursuit.  He takes questions and criticisms seriously and admits when he isn’t sure about something with an honest estimate as to the degree of uncertainty.  He takes the time to understand his opponents’ views and theories and does his best to be precise about exactly what the real differences are between those and his own.  He has time for people who want to learn from him, whether they are leading lights in the field or brand new research students who don’t know anything.

This is the kind of academic I would not like to be:

For him, academic life is all-out war between us (or me) and them.  People who do not share his assumptions or theoretical positions are the forces of darkness.  The very credibility or even existence of the discipline is in danger if you don’t agree with him.  Questions at conferences can safely be interrupted and interlocutors’ work dismissed as worthless.  He is totally unapproachable, unless you are someone who can do something for him.

At this point I remember William Lane Craig’s Advice to Christian Academics.  I may make another post about that later on.

1 comment:

Abecedarius Rex said...

I think Socrates described this job best when he said he was a midwife helping people give birth to themselves. (I need a raise).