Friday, 26 July 2013

Five-year report

In a couple of weeks we will have lived in Cambridge for five years. Five years is longer than you imagine. Time for reflections?

I still haven't got over it. Every now and then I stop to ask myself: What am I doing here? How did I get here? It can't be real. Why do people speak English all the time, it's unnatural. Yet I am here, and most of the time I like it.

What I have definitely learned is that my subject will always be a stepchild. In Literary Studies, I was bullied because children's literature is education. Here, in Education, I am bullied because children's literature is not education. In my old life, I had to justify my existence by researching “real” literature, and it was the only way to advance in my career. I don't need to advance any more so I am not going to publish on quantitative methods or autoethnography. After all, I was hired to do what I am doing so apparently it was judged to be good enough.

This is the first time in my career that I have a leader post, and I have learned to put my team's interest before my own. It was easy because I have always put students' interest before my own. I have learned to raise my voice. It is easier when you speak for other people, not just for yourself. But I have been repeatedly reminded that women are still not counted half as good as men. In my role, I frequently find myself the only woman in a room full of men. They try to pretend I am not there. I point out that I am. It's a silly game.

But women are also silly. I've heard a female professor tell students that academic career is incompatible with family. I pity her.

Most of my colleagues are wonderful, and some have become very close friends. I find Cambridge much, much more friendly and informal than any academic community I have experienced, possibly with the exception of Finland. Social life is tightly interwoven with academic life, for students as well as professors. It's a clever way of running things.

Students are the source of most joy and make it all worth while. They keep up my faith in humanity when everything else fails.

After five years I think I have understood the intricate tensions between colleges and departments, but it's pointless to explain it here. I think I have learned the jargon, but every now and then encounter words that have a specific meaning in Cambridge. You have to have been here for thirty years to become an insider, so it's too late.

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