‘Hack-a-demia: Future Proofing your academic career’ took place at The Cultural Capital Exchange in King’s Cross, on 28 October 2016.
This free one-day conference focused on the challenges and opportunities facing early career academics in a changing work environment, was funded by HEFCE and Arts Council England, and featured support from academic publishers Palgrave Macmillan.
It brought together PhD students and early career researchers from universities including King’s College London, Royal Holloway, Oxford, Middlesex, Guildhall and many more, and – being a stone’s-throw down the canal from Central Saint Martin’s – a number of research students from UAL. I met researchers using walking practices, folk dance, feminist Marxism and bilingual humour as well as those excavating the role of technology in the Arab Spring, contemporary Iranian cinema and medieval Irish.
And was intrigued to discover that I may a ‘pracademic’. No, not a pre-academic (though, as a doctoral research student in my second year part-time presumably that too) but a ‘practitioner-academic’ – one of a growing breed of portfolio careerists, who juggle lecturing, teaching, writing and other ‘outputs’ with creative and industry involvement.mmThose like me in the audience (still trying to assimilate the term ‘early career’) who may have been thinking of a step towards academe as an insurance against the vagaries of the maverick freelance life were not cast down for long, however, as senior academics outlined how important it is to show employers your life skills, experience and abilities to cope with student relations, the demands of the college-work landscape being very different from the process of completing a PhD.
Dr Steven Hill’s keynote speech described the changing face of the research landscape, identifying areas where a new way of thinking and working may be required. Firstly, in outlining how digital technology might alter the nature of scholarship itself, he highlighted the trend for openness and transparency, where open-source and ‘real time’ publishing is creating innovative forms of research, often by surfacing the process of research itself. This leads in to another buzzword of the moment – collaboration. The topic was much discussed throughout the day, often in terms of a tool to leverage funding. The driver here is an increasing focus on societal challenges, and the expectation that research councils be seen to respond to global issues and the expectations of society, beyond the walls of academe. Interdisciplinarity is seen as the key to addressing these complex issues, and departmental structures as a potential barrier.
On this issue, UAL may be ahead of the game, as arts disciplines are inherently fluid and increasingly cross-fertilised within the research environment.
Other speakers were equally forthright: put in place a career strategy which includes a ‘publishing trajectory’, create narratives around your choices of activity, and be prepared to travel, suggested Theatre lecturer, Dr Patrick Duggan. “There are only two priorities – your time, and your health” was the pithy advice from Pro Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University, Prof Carole-Ann Upton. Friendly pointers from the publisher included thinking about the title of your proposed book in terms of ‘search’ and ‘discoverability’, knowing your (tiny but focused!) academic market, and finding out which series of publications you could fit in to.
Practitioner titles are popular, apparently.