Renewal

Several weeks ago, I experienced an instance of déja-vu. Sitting in the graduate cafeteria with some of my friends, mulling over the progress of our research (as we only occasionally do when we are together out of fear that we might perhaps be forced to admit our own shortcomings), we fell upon the subject of the ‘purpose’ of our research. ‘Nobody’s ever going to read our theses,’ someone joked; ‘No, it’s not as if any of us are going to change the world,’ posited another. This making light of the seriousness of our work angered me. Yet I had had a similar encounter just over two years ago. At the time, I was just finishing my Master’s degree, and I had hoped to go straight into doctoral research; my life was taking a different (though not radically different) route to the one it is taking now. I couldn’t get the funding that I needed, so that put paid to my academic aspirations. I was resentful of friends who were about to embark on research projects because their faculties had an abundance of funds for postgraduate researchers, or whose parents had deep pockets and could effectively bankroll what the university couldn’t. I was also jealous of those who were simply ‘lucky enough’, as I saw it, to be offered a scholarship. However, I was more resentful at a system I saw as completely unfair.  My bitterness was compounded by someone who told me that his research had no real ‘purpose’, that he just wanted a PhD and that he suspected that his monograph would end up sitting on a shelf gathering dust. ‘What the hell is the point in that?’ I asked one of my friends. As somebody who had fought for her education, had taken two Master’s degrees (the second in a separate continent to her then fiancé, now husband) and had suffered rejection more times than I yet had, this did not impress her. We believed wholeheartedly in what we were doing and in the fact that we could make a difference and it left a sour taste in our mouths when anyone suggested that things should be otherwise.

 

While I have been exposed to different worlds since that moment and while I am thankful for that exposure, my feelings remain unchanged. If anything, they have been ratcheted up a notch. During my two-year hiatus from academia, I worked for the probation service and loved every minute of it; I was making a difference, in a very small way, to the lives of the individuals and groups that I worked with. The decision to leave and return to my academic career was not an easy one. How could I justify, I kept asking myself (especially in my last few weeks), leaving people who had become so dependent on my support? There would be someone to fill my shoes, of course, but what would happen in the meantime? People would suffer because of my indulgence, because of my selfishness. I reassured myself that what I was going on to do was just as good (but, crucially, not greater, as that would demean the vital work that I did and those that I worked for). The job of imparting knowledge, of filling the gaps left by others, and of changing perspectives: this has always been my calling, and I have finally been given the opportunity to take this up and make it happen. This is in part what has inspired the genesis of this blog; I’m not hoping to advance my career, but to share ideas and perspectives. I’m committed to making a difference, whatever manifestation that may take, and believe in creating a forum to discuss problems that resonate with modern life. Perhaps this endeavour is foolhardy, but I’d prefer to take that chance.

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