Tuesday, 11 November 2014


Posted by Samantha Level

Thoughts of a ‘nacademic’ (a cross between a ‘naka’ (no knowledge of any worth) and an academic (a longing to have knowledge of worth)).

According to the urban dictionary
'Nacademic; Nakk-a-dem-ik (noun). A person who claims knowledge in a particular subject, however they do not possess any kind of merit to back up such claims.' 
Manuel from Fawlty Towers played by Andrew Sachs
In the words of the loveable Manuel from Fawlty Towers ‘I know nothing’ (ironically from the episode communication problems and repeated by me in the worst Catalan accent imaginable). I feel that phrase pretty much summed up my first year as a part-time PhD student - especially when talking to academics and / or other postgraduate students, probably not so much when talking to non-academic friends. Now at the end of my second year I don’t feel that dread of someone asking me about my research for fear they will delve too deep into the abyss of my empty head expecting me to retrieve data that has not yet been collated, rather now I feel a hint of, dare I say, ‘confidence’.

In the beginning talking to other new students actually made me feel inferior. Some of them already seemed so knowledgeable, with clear aims and objectives, plans of their chosen methodology and some even knew about theory! How I was jealous of these people (or aliens as they might have been).  Whereas, I just had passion to learn (or as Jarvis Cocker said in the song Common People a ‘thirst for knowledge’) and the stubbornness not to quit. It didn’t help that a lot of the articles I attempted to read made me feel like self-diagnosing myself with narcolepsy, but with a dictionary at hand ready to translate I persevered - and here I am progressing to my third year.

My advice would be if, like me, you suffer from the paranoia of empty head syndrome (trust me, you’re head is NOT empty but in those dark moments of self-paranoia you may feel it is) - start off talking to other post-grads that may not be from your subject area - this way you learn to talk about your research without worrying that they may know more than you do about ‘your’ topic. I attended a three day researcher training event held at Durham University and I have to say the invitation to this arrived at a crucial time for me as my confidence levels were so low I wondered if I was even ‘smart’ enough to progress to year 2, let alone complete a PhD. Once there I chatted to others - many of whom felt just like me. They were from all areas - engineering, medical, psychology and so on - and this was the first time I felt I fitted in as a post-grad.

I guess the message I want to relay is that if you’re reading this and think OMG (editor: that's 'Oh my Goodness' for those who remember a time before text messages!) that’s me - I’m a nacademic, then don’t feel alone and hang on in there - the ‘naka’ section disintegrates (albeit often slowly) and you will emerge like a beautiful academic butterfly (or in my case more of a moth but still at least materialising into some form of an academic ….)

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