I often make reference to this article from the Guardian about why women leave academia and why Universities should be worried when I post about my PhD blight - yes, I mean blight, not plight, as it’s become more of an infection I’m always fighting off than a difficult situation. The article is fantastic either way; if you are an academic (male or female) or academic-in-wanting, it’s a must read. The statistics show by year 3 (British PhDs are 3-4 years typically) the number of women who want to go into academia drop from 72% to 37%, and the article details why excellently.
Yesterday, a big name political economist came to Manchester and met with me to talk to me about my thesis. I don’t envy big name academics; there’s so much pressure when your title begins with ‘Distinguished’ instead of just ‘Professor’. I get that there are issues with travel, exhaustion, many new names, new faces, and new places to adjust … but if you’re going to meet with a PhD to discuss research, the least you can do is treat her better than a ‘fan girl’.
It didn’t go well, tumblr. Hopes were dashed; interest was feigned, and expectations were dwindled. The worst thing about meeting this big name political economist was that for the days leading up to, I actually started to reconsider going into academia instead of the international civil service, mostly out of the sheer respect I have for this person’s distinguished career.
But all these mind games, these egos, these inward reflections of well-you’ll-never-be-as-good-as-I or I-don’t-think-you-interpretted-my-framework-properly, what person (male or female) willingly subjects themselves to that?! To hierarchical subjugation based on status, to such belittling, just disregard for commentary.
At least with international civil service, if you’re wrong, you’re told you’re wrong; if you’re being an ass, you’re told to shape up; if you’re blowing hot air for 20 minutes, you’re openly and publicly mocked. I know it’s not all green pastures in the civil service but the sort of open-faced, self-acknowledging pomp is not tolerated - the charter says we are equal, and, we are.
Point is: with academia, you never know where you stand, and that’s part of what (theoretically) drives you to keep publishing, keep improving, keep striving. But it’s also what makes academia incredibly unrewarding, isolationist, and self deprecating. With civil service, you check in and check out, knowing whether you’re paid to be an ass or you’re paid to be an arbitrator - you know where you stand.
As us women types gain confidence in role in the professional world, we’re realising we don’t have to take the shit that’s dealt out at the highest levels of academia, BUT academia does need to worry about retaining us to meet their demographics and quotas. So what’s it gonna be, yeah?