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Eureka: Some reflections on academia Eureka: Some reflections on academia
by Akli Hadid
2017-09-13 10:35:35
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To sum up, I've met a lot of angry people in academia. A world where everyone seems to have the wrong degrees, the wrong specializations, the wrong research abilities or everyone seems to be the wrong fit for the job. “Oh you specialize in financial macroeconometrics, but we're looking for a specialist in financial microeconometrics. So you've done research in financial microeconometrics but we're looking for someone who specializes in home financial microeconometrics.”

academia1_400I once got a call asking me if I knew someone who could teach a Spanish course. I volunteered but the person said they wanted a native speaker. Whatever that means, so I recommended a Mexican friend. So the person wanted someone with an accent from Spain. So I said I had a couple of Spanish friends I wanted to recommend. When asked what city they were from, I said from somewhere in the South of Spain. The guy asked me to find someone who was from Madrid. What difference that would make to beginner learners of Spanish I have no idea.

I got ahead of the game when I realized that most self-proclaimed specialists were not actual specialists. It took some time for me to realize that most specialists had not done their homework, and that they had not read basic readings in their speciality. Specilization is a code word for avoiding academic conversation these days, because intellectual conversation with other professors can lead to anger, judgements, and to be honest, if you're not up to their game, that could get you fired.

I stopped publishing in journals and going to conferences when I realized that behind the scenes, the idea was not to get quality speakers but to sign lucrative deals with publishing houses. The main concern for organizers tends to be where publishers can use booths to promote textbooks and other books. I can get the same textbooks at most public libraries, don't pay a dime, and I actually read them.

The lectures these days is what confuses me the most. I like to joke to professors that using technology is optional. You don't have to waste time and energy with those PowerPoints. The best lectures I've attended did not use PowerPoint. In a 1988 lecture professor Joseph Nye was explaining why he thought the Soviet Union would collapse, giving very detailed reasons why he thought it would collapse, a lot of his predictions turned out being right, and I had his lecture on tape. He did not use PowerPoint, videos or audio files that would have made the lecture dull anyway. Most people get the point, and don't need videos to emphasize the point.

Finally, what surprises me in academia is a lot of the discussions we have on politics. A lot of people tend to forget that a lot of Americans are registered Republicans and would never vote for a Democrat. They want their gun rights and want less taxes, don't want more legislation favoring the LGBT community and would vote for any Republican candidate. How many guys with Ph.D.s seem to forget that Trump is actually a Republican. And many other blindspots some people in academia seem to have.

Finally, I kind of dislike how professors like to roast students who defend their thesis or come up with rather decent presentations. If the students had a rough time, it's probably because no one taught them how to write a research paper and deliver a decent presentation. Probably because a lot of professors like to yell when they explain how to write a decent paper, rather than, say, recommend a good book on the topic.

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Murray Hunter2017-09-13 12:47:01
Glad to read your article Dr. Hadid. I felt during my period in academia that so many did research for the sake of meeting their KPIs and had very little passion for the areas they were researching. Conferences have turned into holiday fests and are now organized by people in many cases who have little passion or commitment for the subject of the conference. I came to the conclusion that academia is in fact anti-intellectual. I have forgotten my period in these institutions and have moved onto becoming a real person.

Emanuel Paparella2017-09-13 16:12:07
Etymologically academia derives from Plato’s academy which lasted 1000 years. Surely there was something good in it, although Plato would have been the first to suggest improvements and reforms.

Undoubtedly it is far from perfect and it has more than its share of narcissists, egomaniacs and back-stabbers (who exist and will continue to exist in every human field of endeavor, if truth be told) but what alternative do we really have: shall we try ignorance? We know what Plato thought of that proposal; we can deduce it from his famous myth of the cave…

It has been my experience, in my 50 + years in academia that rants against academia and academics, deserved or not as they may be, usually proceed from those who somehow fail to acknowledge that everything they know and are experts in, was acquired in academia, from those who wish to vent their frustrations, legitimate or not, with the system.

As a rule, ABD holders ( the “all but dissertation” imaginary degree wishing to pass as a Ph.D.), those who, for some reason or other, never brought to completion their Ph.D. requirements (and therefore experienced limited opportunities in an academic setting or career), rarely offer a positive assessment of the meritocracy that is the academic system.

There is usually an attempt to assign blame, to all but oneself, for one’s own dysfunctions in academia. This is not to deny the injustices perpetrated against graduate students or faculty without tenure, or that there are many excellent college professors in academia who do not have a Ph.D. or tenure, searching for the truth, who may even be self-taught, or that one cannot be an intellectual and a scholar outside, or even in opposition to, academia, but it is my experience that in general the rants against academia are slightly biased if not redolent of sour grapes.

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