Is academe worth it?

A few weeks ago, during a meeting with my research group, we were screening the Horizon 2020 programme for interesting calls. Within them, a call is about: “Making science education and careers attractive for young people”. Seriously, no joke, the EC is investing some millions to fund researches with the aim of making careers in academe (and beyond) attractive. We had some debate, about it, and some of the more experienced researchers advocated that, no, they would not work to convince young people to get into the machine. My father was a university professor, when he was young and starting to get into it, nobody should had worked in order to convince him that a career in academe was worth doing. In Italy, in late 60s, somebody could easily, somebody could with harsh efforts (such as my father did), somebody could not: no doubt about the quality of the career, both for the kind of work and personal perspectives.

Apparently, this is not the case in 2000s. Insofar as one of the aims of the YA network is that of “forming a self-supporting network of Young Academics within AESOP”, a few words about “is academe worth it?”, nowadays, are worth spending.

The most prominent reason for the falling attractiveness of academe is, apparently, the way it has been (re)structured in recent times. According to Alexandre Afonso, academe, nowadays, resembles a drug gang. There are a few secure and still well-paid jobs at the top of the hierarchy, and a pile of outsiders yearning to secure a position, while working tons of hours for relatively low wages (in Italy a bartender wherever earns more than a PhD student).

But life ain’t easy for those that have secured a tenure-track or a professorship as well, and, pressured by competition and the need to secure funds for outsiders around them, they work a lot, they work way too much. And this is not automatically reflected into “better” work, because “ideas need some idle, nonproductive space in which to thrive. This kind of sustained thinking is an important part of being human, but it’s also vital for good academic work”.

Yet, we keep trying: we keep working 24/7 although we don’t have any idea of where we’ll be in few years (as our fathers and mothers, more or less, had when in their late 20s or 30s). Academe is thus still worth it. But why?

I’d like to hear more voices here, for I cannot but give my own “because”, which may be summed up in few words. Last Saturday (of course, working) I was reading: some quantitative analyses about crime trends in Latin America, 1990s theories around new institutionalisms, a critique of neoclassical economics, Chantal Mouffe on agonism.

Yes, they are the reason I think academe is still worth it, those (few) moments when we are still working but we have the time to sit down a bit, and enjoy the pleasure of ideas from different disciplines and intellectual perspectives.

But there’s more than this, much more than this.

(Simone Tulumello)

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About Simone Tulumello

Post-doc researcher in Planning and Geography at ULisboa, Institute of Social Sciences. Keen in cities, politics, photography and electronic music. Lover of cities, especially Palermo and Lisbon, in a complicated relationship with Memphis TN.
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