What’s so ‘accidental’ about this ‘academic’?

I didn’t start out my professional life as an academic, nor even wanting to be one, so … how did I end up here? Let’s start by working backwards….

At present, I teach and research communication, media and culture at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Before entering the academy to teach full-time (a combination of a half-time position plus various single-course contracts) and study for my PhD part-time, I had worked in a number of different occupations including as an adult educator and FE lecturer, ESL instructor, freelance editor, journalist and broadcaster, and video editor. In particular, after a series of stops and starts, I managed to get into a career working full-time as a media professional. However, after three years, I decided to try out academia, although even then my intention was not necessarily to seek a permanent job at a university.

My decision to leave the media was based upon the ways in which there appeared to be little future working – or trying to work – as a full-time media professional given the short-term, contract-to-contract, piecework nature of radio and TV industry employment practices. It is in those conditions that it is hard to have a ‘normal’, middle-class lifestyle: e.g. virtually impossible to get a mortgage, plan ahead, even to take holidays.  It was that kind of future that I sought to avoid by working in the academy.

It turned out that I was ‘in the right place at the right time’. It was a combination of my professional background and training and post-graduate studies in the subject areas of communication, media and cultural studies that was gaining widespread popularity with students and scholars as well as administrators (more ‘bums-in-seats’) that saw the growth of university jobs throughout the 1990s and 2000s.

Despite the growth in part-time, contingent and contract work in the academy, there were still jobs in these fields. However, at least since 2008-09, in the aftermath of the global financial meltdown (courtesy of Wall Street and other hedge fund managers et al.), academic positions have almost completely disappeared (by contrast, however, senior administrative positions appear to have proliferated).

If I had started my academic career four or five years later than when I did, I would most likely be in the same situation of most contract professors and graduate students. It is this kind of luck that explains much of the differences between those who are on the inside of the ivory tower and those who are stuck outside.

At present, there is little future for most graduate students who have obtained PhDs. There appears to be a far greater likelihood of obtaining a position as a career administrator in the ever burgeoning bureaucracy of universities everywhere. Certainly, it appears to be a much more secure career option in terms of income and job security (if you don’t mind being a ‘yes man’ or ‘woman’) than teaching and research.

This work trajectory, thus far, describes the position that I now feel I hold: in the academy but never of it. Perhaps, this trajectory and experience in different workplaces explain the critical view I hold of how the academy is being transformed and how it increasingly works against those who have taken the university up on the claims that senior administrators, governments and business elites promote: as a route to a professional career and secure, middle-class lifestyle.

How do my scholarly and professional interests overlap?

My research and teaching interests cover such areas as alternative media, union communications, journalism and dissent, media coverage of economic, labour and poverty issues, social movements and political communication, particularly in Canada and the UK, as well as the USA.

My interest in these areas is not strictly speaking, ‘academic’ (if you pardon the pun), but also practical. I have experience as a media professional in radio and TV (during the reign of ‘analogue’), as well as more recent experience running media relations workshops and providing communications advice for various social, environmental and economic justice organisations. I have also worked as a media relations officer and communications advisor to a faculty union on a number of negotiations for contract and full-time faculty, editor for a faculty newsletter and as a social media officer, and for a political riding association.

I believe that there is much to be learned from bringing the two areas together: theory/analysis and practice.

Of course, I am also interested in all aspects of post-secondary/higher education, from the conditions for faculty, both contract/contingent and permanent, students (quality and costs of their education), and support staff (who ensure faculty and students can do what they do best). Despite my involvement with different organisations and the many hats I wear, there is no necessary correlation between their positions and those expressed on this blog.

Clearly, the views that I express are my own and they also do not reflect in any way the university (or the management of the university) which employs me (and which presumes to speak for the university, when in fact it has a tendency to speak only on behalf of or for the upper level of the bureaucracy, rather than the community of educators, students and staff, but that is another issue).



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