How to Act Like an Academic
by Emma Deeks
When you first become a PhD student, you enter a world of academics, and (whether you like it or not) you become one of them. This can be a daunting process, especially if you don’t feel like you fit the stereotype (glasses, elbow patches, piles of books, and maybe even a beard….?). I used to be mildly offended when people said ‘I didn’t look like a PhD student’ or worse, didn’t ‘sound like one’. What did that actually mean? Do I not look clever enough? Smart enough? Male enough? Stressed enough?! Am I too northern to be clever?! But the truth is, there is no such thing as a typical PhD student, or academic – they come in all shapes, sizes, genders and nationalities; it is simply about making the role your own. If you have been determined and intelligent enough to get to PhD stage, you’ve done the hard work. However, it is well known that imposter syndrome (or the fear that everyone will suddenly discover you don’t belong/ aren’t clever enough to be in academia) is one of the hardest things for PhD students to overcome. So I am here to highlight and dismiss a few myths about academics, and hopefully show that anyone can join their gang!
- All academics are men: okay, so this will vary greatly depending on the subject, and literature is usually better than most at having a fair gender representation. However, the stereotypical professor is always a man! But don’t let that put you off. Like with many arenas, academia needs more good women (and good men) – and joining in is the only way to change the status quo.
- All academics wear glasses: there is something about glasses that makes people appear more intelligent, right? Well yeah, if you’re the mass media or an advertising company… realistically, most glasses wearers would rather not have to aid their eyesight, so if you can manage frame free then why not! Nobody is going to believe your methodology any more if you say it from behind some specs.
- All academics dress a certain way: in my experience, not true at all! Anything from a full tweed suit, to a hot pink mini dress (and that’s just the men!) – most universities expect a professional dress code if you’re working/ teaching, but there is no uniform for academia, so be comfortable and be yourself. If you are an academic, then you look like an academic.
All academics are well spoken: as a northerner I am constantly frustrated at the London-centric nature of academic events/funding. However, snobbery from certain universities is thankfully rare and often says more about the individual than the institution. Someone’s accent is not an indication of their intelligence, so speak in your own voice and make it worth listening to.
- All academics have no social life: this is both an untrue and dangerous myth! Okay, so a PhD is not necessarily the kind of thing that gives you loads of free time (or at least time without the guilt of not writing). But many academics juggle family life, relationships and hobbies alongside their job, because they deserve to! So if it seems like everyone is doing more work than you, or staying later, then don’t panic. Maybe they came in late after dropping their kids off, or spent all weekend paragliding! Everyone works to different schedules, and everyone deserves a break.
- All academics know everything: This is obviously never true, but it is often how it feels when you speak to people further on in their career (imposter syndrome again!). The reality is, most academics know a lot about their field, but so do you, or you certainly will once you have begun your research. Some people have great memories, or simply know how to say the right things, and this can seem intimidating. But the recall of knowledge or facts isn’t what gets you a PhD, or makes you a good academic. The research you do will equip you with knowledge about your area, and that’s all you need to concentrate on. The people that seem like they know everything about everything usually don’t.
Obviously there are lots more examples of the stereotypical academic that I could go into, but the point is that there is no such thing!! In our research we must always strive to be original, and I think that as academics, we should also embrace the uniqueness of ourselves.