Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Understanding how academics work: a summer crash course

Posted by Avril Rhodes

After two years of semi-undercover, ethnographic research, embedded in Teesside University, I can now reveal how academics work, for the benefit of other muggles in the world of public health delivery. I write as a muggle, struggling to hang on to my old identity so that I am welcome in previous haunts, which, is, by the way, what a knowledge broker is – someone who can still look up old friends and get an hour of their time.

The first Muggle family - The Dursleys 
Lesson Number 1 – Academics (or wizards) do not work regular hours – actually they don’t know when the working day starts or finishes.  You come in, as a muggle, after that Bank Holiday weekend, confident of a fresh start, and find your in-box full of messages from people who have blurred work and play.  And then there is a silence, when you’ve frantically caught up with the e-mails.  And then they ambush you again in the evening, in the early morning, and that old weekend trick.

Lesson Number 2 – Wizards prefer Mondays. The more the week goes on, the less likely they are to be found.  They are visible early on in the week and then start to fade away from the workplace, in favour of working at home, at night, whilst travelling, in cafes, anywhere outside the office, until by Friday lunchtime, as a muggle, you know you have the building almost to yourself. If you want to meet a wizard face to face, go for the first part of the week.

Lesson Number 3 – Wizards like casual clothes. Wear a suit, or what you think is standard business dress and you’ll stand out like a sore thumb.  Oxfam chic seems to sum up wizard dress.  But, if you want to maintain your distance, keep that muggle clothing in pristine condition.

Lesson Number 4 – Enjoy your lunch! (Calorie controlled)  Wizards like any excuse to eat lunch – properly and out of the office.  Be prepared at a moment’s notice to go off on these jaunts and don’t be deceived, they are just as likely to want to discuss work as anything else. Spaghetti and qualitative research methods are the same to a wizard.  You will also hear, “How about a coffee while we explore this further?” and before you know it you have cappuccino all over your mouth.

Lesson Number 5 – I thought I liked the written word, but I’d underestimated wizards. Everything, and I mean everything, has to be recorded, analysed, discussed, drafted, reflected upon, circulated and made into a journal article.  The absence of findings is data to a wizard.

Lesson Number 6 – and finally wizards don’t like sitting at desks and have forgotten about landlines.  As you’ll have gathered they are happiest working anywhere else apart from in the office, especially if it involves going to a conference and using mobile devices.  Want a wizard?  Ring them on their mobile and don’t flinch when they say they are in Canada.  

1 comment:

  1. May I expand on Lesson 4? In many muggle jobs, suggesting a further exploration of a colleague's particular angle on a certain qualitative method over a post-lunch coffee is a rather directly suggestive chat-up line... and in some muggle jobs may even be seen as rather inappropriate. For this reason, many new wizards feel suspicion or take alarm at the offer of a trip out for spaghetti or a free cappuccino. For academics, however, "let's discuss this over coffee" rarely means anything more than the words themselves convey. Your colleague just wants to talk about your particular angle on a certain qualitative method. That's all.