More of a teacher than an academic
Who is an academic? In an evaluation, I was described by a professor as ”more of a teacher than an academic”. Please note the words ”than an academic”. Not ”than a researcher”. The statement is based on the categorical and biased belief that teaching and academic work do not overlap. They are separate boxes, and you fall either into one or into the other. In the context of the evaluation, this statement sounded like ”more of a nobody than a somebody”. I’m a senior lecturer with a strong teaching profile. Research has always been an important part of my work, but I cannot deny my devotion to teaching and teaching development.
”Academic” as a noun refers to someone who teaches or does research at a college or university, according to MacMillan online dictionary. Merriam-Webster defines it as a member of an institution of learning (such as a university) OR a person who is academic in background, outlook, or methods. Both definitions imply that university educators should qualify as academics.
Limiting academic identity to that of a researcher is a dangerous way of thinking. Teaching has not been rewarded the same way as research in academic careers, and excluding it totally from the field of academic work degrades its value even more.
The article on academic identity in Finnish higher education (Ursin et al. 2018) is built on interviews made with teaching staff without PhDs. It identifies five narratives of academic identity: the narratives of confident teacher, insecure teacher, passionate researcher, inadequate researcher and ambivalent academic. It was found that the competence to do research influenced the actualisation of academic identity. Struggles were also mentioned with finding time for research. But neither the authors nor the participants of the study questioned the relevance of teaching to academic identity.
University teaching and research should go hand in hand, one supporting the other. Some academics might have stronger research profiles, while others might be more experienced in teaching. But no matter where you locate yourself on the teacher-researcher continuum, you should see yourself as an academic.
With a PhD, more than 30 publications and almost 20 years of university teaching experience, I feel that I have a place in academia.
Ursin, J., Vähäsantanen, K., McAlpine, L. & Hökkä, P. (2018). Emotionally loaded identity and agency in Finnish academic work, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 44:3, 311-325, DOI: 10.1080/0309877X.2018.1541971