Quick thoughts on a year in academia

So another academic year, my 34th ends. All that’s left to do is mark my only exam and attend an exam board or two and that’s that. It’s been an unusual year for me. I had a very reduced workload and although I gave all my lectures and ran my lab modules, I generally took a step back from things. Having done the same job since I was 23, I needed a break and for that reason I have been happy to cocoon during the pandemic and avoid the daily grind of commuting back and forth to and from DCU.

Next year though it’ll be back to my full load and I’ll be taking over the Chair of the BSc in Biotechnology. The only aspect of the job that I really never get fed up of is the interaction with students so I’ll be happy to be busy in the role of Chair.

As for research, I seem to have found myself in a cul-de-sac. When I wrote my book a few years ago, it drained me of every idea I had and since then I’ve been unmoved by the thought of writing more academic papers. Most of what I’ve produced in my career is fine in its own way – I think I’ve only had a paper rejected once – but none of it is all that important. I know I should try to expand into other areas but I’m naturally cautious (I like to know what I’m talking about) and I’m not prepared to manage projects in areas in which I am not an expert. I think that happens too much these days especially when research is industry-funded. Younger academic are under huge pressure to tick all sorts of boxes and the temptation to take on projects just to be seen to be research active, and to improve your metrics, is strong.

But the thing is this: we’re well paid (by the tax payer) and privileged to have a job that is important, fulfilling and yet provides a great deal of flexibility. So it’s not good enough to say “I’m done with research” and replace it with nothing. So my plan for the summer is to write very day – about education – and hopefully I’ll have something solid to show for it by September. Then, there’s the small matter of putting next semester’s teaching, of which I have a lot, online. That’s a task I’m looking forward to – really.

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