Before I started the social work undergrad program I had to finish up some required prerequisites, math, science, English, and a few electives. It was much less painful than I had imagined it being when I was working not wanting to return to school. I particularly liked the science courses and the electives, I took all sociology electives.
One of my sociology professors stood out from the rest. He was a retired PhD from a northern school. He was an activist, and an author, and the equivalent to my Morrie – if you have ever read Tuesdays with Morrie. It was a diversity class and he was constantly challenging us, it was amazing. He is to credit for my becoming a volunteer and becoming active in many different organizations. He strongly encouraged us to be involved in what is going on around us, as a volunteer, an activist, an advocate, in any way we can.
Every week when I went to his class it was like going to church, his words were wise and came from a place of pain and experience. I am forever grateful that we crossed paths if only briefly, he had an enormous impact on me.
One class I, towards the end of the semester, I remember him warning us about going off to university and not getting our full experience and/or being taken advantage of by our professors. This sounds weird, especially that last part, I know. I never fully put together what he was saying either, until grad school. His words ring in my ears now, I finally understand the message fully.
He was talking about our professors being more concerned about Publish or Perish than teaching us and being engaged. Personally I have had some outstanding professors that I am honored to be learning from, I have seen and heard some of what my Morrie was talking about though.
At the grad level the entire experience feels less personal. In undergrad I had a professional relationship with the director of the program and felt acknowledged and encouraged in the work I was doing. Maybe I was a bit spoiled by that because you certainly do not get that at grad level. I believe the director knows who I am, she and I sat on a quarterly meeting together when I was in undergrad. Now there is no reason for us to interact though.
Even the advisers feel standoffish at the grad level though which surprised me. I have tried on multiple occasions to meet with my adviser and they all but refuse. They will do everything in their power to handle the issue outside of the office. That is fine I guess, they have a lot of students to manage and I recognize that. Over all though the cold reception from the admin office does make the program feel less personal than the undergrad program.
The longer I am a student the more I am getting to see behind the curtain of academia as well. There certainly does seem to be pressure to do research and publish your findings in order to be relevant, and being relevant is clearly very important. Seems like a lot of pressure and almost competition. The energy around Publish or Perish is tense for sure.
A professor who I deeply admire from undergrad strongly encouraged a colleague and myself to not only publish our findings from the community research we were doing last year but also to consider staying in school past the grad level. It all seemed exciting at the time but looking back at it, that path is not for me. Not at this point in my life at least. The reason to take that path is if you want a career in academia, as it stands now that is not my focus. I could maybe see myself being an adjunct in retirement but right now I want to be hands on practicing.
Another observation I have made sense being back in school full-time is the importance of protecting your intellectual property. I have even considered it at times when I write in this blog. Most of what I write is personal but on occasion I branch out a bit and what is stopping someone from taking my brain work and claiming it as their own?
I have seen this very thing happen at school, and have personally experienced it on more than one occasion. You share an idea with another person and next thing you know they have shared it with the class without giving you credit. This may seem like a small offense but it the tip of the iceberg on a much larger problem. What if that person instead of sharing the idea with the class decided to go and construct an entire research project off of your idea and then published it? It is their work, sure, but your idea.
So yeah, I guess my take away from what my Morrie told me so many years ago is that academia can be a very cut throat environment. I want to believe that no one is being this way intentionally, I think there is just a lot of pressure to perform. It doesn’t fell good though I can tell you that. I also see where ethics are of the utmost importance in order to keep from having situations where a person’s intellectual property is being used without their permission.Talk about dog eat dog.