I think that I shall never see, a life so lovely as a tea… cher

What a life it is to be an academic.

I’ve been in a university environment over three months now, and I can safely say there’s a reason so many lecturers seem so happy. I mean, compared to the hardscrabble, living-on-the-edge, risk-filled rollercoaster of private business, being an academic is one seriously cushy number. Sometimes I feel like one of HG Wells’ Morlocks accidentally emerging from his hellish subterreanea and glimpsing the verdant paradise above.

First off, academic life is fun. Just imagine the work environment of the average don. You spend time either with people who defer to your superior knowledge (students) or who share your interests (departmental colleagues.) Being an academic is like one long Sunday afternoon in the park with friends.

You get financial security too. Maybe the salaries aren’t great, but plenty of academics do private consulting at high rates – and additionally, as civil servants, many academics get an index-linked pension: the gold-plated sort that pays out an ever-increasing, inflation-proof amount without you having to pay in increasing sums. Someone recently calculated that the average private sector manager would need to build up a pension pot of ONE MILLION POUNDS to enjoy the same payouts as the equivalent civil servant. Being an academic means never having to worry about your dotage.

You get a great living environment. Lots of academics live in subsidised housing, some right here on campus: the dreamy, intellectual atmosphere of the ivory towers, combined with annual influxes of young people to keep your ideas fresh. Academics get everything but free backrubs from naked maidens, and I’m pretty sure even that’s on offer in the Humanities block. (How come the OB guys always seem such happy souls?)

And the work itself? Well, given that academics always note their ‘research interests’ on their CVs, isn’t that a bit like… ‘doing what you enjoy‘? Your job involves reading and writing about the stuff you like the most? Does that even qualify as a job? Either way, being an academic offers a great working life.

Of course, you’re allowed eccentricities as an academic that the private sector wouldn’t let your feet touch the ground for. The scruffiest jeans and jumpers, and barely decipherable handwriting? And some of these eccentricities cost the taxpayer serious money. At Warwick, the maths guys came out in open rebellion some years back, about… the whiteboards in the Maths Department. (They liked blackboards and chalk.) At huge expense, the whiteboards were replaced with blackboards, just to satisfy a bunch of numbers freaks’ fits of pique. Being an academic lets you do your own thing, all the time.

Furthermore, under the UK’s RAE grading system, you only have a ‘performance review’ every FIVE years, and even then it’s based on just your best FOUR pieces of work. Four pieces?!! In five years?! You could just spend six months producing four really good bits, then goof off for nearly half a decade. Unlike the private sector – with its quarterly earnings requirements, its downsizing habits and its dog-eat-dog culture – being an academic lets you thumb your nose at performance standards.

Oh, what a life is it to be an academic!

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