Tag Archives: academia

Pecking orders

One of the funny things this week about attending all these nursing lectures was seeing and reflecting on academic and professional hierarchies. Nursing in many Russell Group universities (like the one I attend, for example) is very much the poor relation – it was made a degree subject only in the 1990s (prior to that nurse education was done through the health service rather than university), and so there wasn’t an established cadre of nurse educators with degrees and doctorates and academic track records. So even now you’ll find that many of the educators on degree courses have a degree but of those with postgrad qualifications, probably the majority have a masters degree rather than a PhD. Now, I’m not arguing for or against that, just saying that’s the situation. Arguably the most helpful qualification is a healthy dose of common sense and ability to communicate, rather than have an ever-expanding list of letters after your name.

Recently a large nursing school, part of a large well-established (not Russell Group, but not a post-1992) university, closed down. I see this as a worrying trend – large universities attract a lot of funding by undertaking and publishing research, and whilst nursing has a part to play in this, of course the bulk of the focus is on vocational training, and so nursing and similar departments are seen as poor relations and I’m sure there are many nursing departments facing tough situations – it wouldn’t surprise me if in a few years all nurse education is done by the red-brick, post-1992 more teaching-intensive universities. I think this is sad – speaking as someone with a foot in both vocational and academic camps, I think that the discipline of nursing has a huge amount to offer academia, especially in terms of qualitative research. I can think of at least two of my colleagues in my current department, not nurses at all, who have drawn on stuff in the Journal of Advanced Nursing when writing up their research methods, and both said how the nursing literature has a lot of really useful, good quality and practical articles which are helpful for researchers in other fields too.

I started thinking about all this after the first session of the week, when the lecturer introduced me to the class as a PhD student and health visitor who would be sitting in on the week’s lectures. He then said something a bit later about academic and work hierarchies (I forget in which context) and I smiled as I recognised what he meant, thinking to myself about how I am a *mere* PhD student in a department of professors, senior lecturers etc etc. He saw me smiling and said something along the lines of “Yes, exactly – a PhD here, so top of the tree, I’ve just got a Masters”, and it gave me a real “cognitive dissonance” moment – I am used to seeing myself as near the bottom of the academic pile, and here I was being presented as at the top. That was a bit odd, especially as in that particular context I would regard him as much more senior and “up there” than me – he has an academic lecturing post, and has published extensively, something to which I’m still just aspiring.

It also got me thinking about even among PhD students there is a hierarchy. My first couple of years I felt clueless and like I would never reach the heady heights that my more experienced colleagues had reached. That changed when I did my fieldwork – having my own data that I could discuss, rather than just talk about other people’s work, marked a definite move up the ladder. I’ve noticed that the PhD students in my department who have only started in the last academic year or two treat me differently to how they treat each other – I have reached the dizzy heights of post-fieldwork PhD student.

The same thing happened in the nursing dept this week – the PhD thing wasn’t such a big “wow” thing for them (though a number came up to me and asked about what I was researching), but a couple of the students asked me for career advice (hahahahaha, stop laughing at the back). One really wanted to be a health visitor (hooray!) and was worried that by doing adult nursing she was not going the right way about getting into health visiting, so she was very relieved to hear about my own journey to health visiting. The other one though was asking my advice on choosing her final year placement options, despite the fact that I have no experience in the possible areas she was interested in pursuing. Just the fact that I was qualified placed me “up there” as someone credible to give that sort of advice. That was quite sobering.

And yet despite all this, despite all the experience of moving (or being seen to be) up the hierarchy and pecking order a bit, I have to be honest. I still feel like a total blagger.

It is (almost) finished!

Hooray!  It’s a wee bit too long, and I’m not entirely convinced that the individual sections, although all pretty good by themselves, entirely hang together, and I don’t like my concluding paragraph so will rewrite it tomorrow, and I have to chop out about 400 words, but I have had some good and very useful feedback from a colleague and hopefully will have supervisor feedback soon so I think I almost have something publishable!  Now once I’ve done all that (tomorrow) they just have to accept it!

The last couple of thousand words took as long as the previous 5,000, and by the end I felt like I was doing the electronic equivalent of slurring my speech, but at least getting it down as a whole on paper means I have been able to chill this evening (as opposed to the last 3 evenings where I have chilled while a bag of work has sat in the hall making me feel guilty).  The closest I got to actually doing any of the work I brought home was bringing the bag into the living room yesterday evening, where it sat at my feet looking at me while I read wiblogs.

Today I was telling one of my colleagues (who just started his PhD this year) how I still, after all this time, am convinced I’m just blagging my way through the whole thing and one day soon I’ll get found out.  I’m just encouraged by the fact that the longer I’m in academia at this level, the more I meet loads of people who are doing amazing things in their research (including staff members) who feel exactly the same.

Various unrelated matters

One thing I’ve found in my reading around my subject is that everybody quotes two theorists – Foucault and Bourdieu. I’ve been putting off reading them for as long as I could, but I really do have to bite the bullet and get my head round them, as they (apparently) had lots to say of relevance to the things I’m looking at in my research. But I really struggle to understand what they’re on about. Why do academics have to write so densely? (it’s nothing to do with the fact that I’m thick, you understand, nothing at all). And they’re both so bloody prolific (understatement), so trying to figure out which books to read is just making my head hurt – if I can’t understand any of them, how can I know which ones are more relevant? Sigh.

In other news, I went to the physio today. I was nervous, as last week when things didn’t seem to be improving very much she had talked about reviewing me today and maybe referring me to the orthopaedic doctors. But today it is much better and she has decided that it is only ligament damage and that there isn’t anything going on with the cartilage that requires poking and prodding by doctors, so I am to just carry on with the knee massage and exercises I’ve been doing and see her again in 4 weeks. So I’m very happy and relieved about that!

And in other other news, I have also just been interviewed by a journalist from the Glasgow Evening Times about my Glasgow Daily Photo blog (link to the left). How hilarious is that? I have to have my photo taken next week, so presumably the article will appear at the end of next week or the beginning of the one after that. *giggle*