Playing the game

It must be 7 years since I finished my M.A., but I have yet to register for a Ph.D. Part of the reason is, of course, the amount of teaching that junior staff members end up doing. But a larger part of the reason is that I am a slacker (although a fellow Resistentialist claims that I’m too organised to count as a slacker). I’ll insist that I have earned the label, though, and cite in my defense that he’s actually produced far more measurable “product” than I have in the past 2 years or so.

Recently, though, I’ve been given an opportunity to be part of a research team that should propel me quite swiftly up the publication ladder. And this development has finally given me something to say on research funding applications, which is a welcome development given the prices of academic texts. In fact, I’m apparently fitting into a common stereotype – my colleague says “humanities types encounter sticker shock when they see what science & economics texts cost”.

So the one funding avenue available is the thing that this University calles the “Emerging Researcher Programme”, which is intended (at least partly) for slackers like me, who are believed to have unfulfilled potential. By joining, you get (a maximum of) 5 years of advice and support, plus the opportunity to apply for a share of bounty specifically reserved for members of the programme.

When I received the personal invitation to join – a process which begins with an interview with a “leading academic” and mentor in the programme – I was surprised and dismayed to see that this academic’s email contained a flagrant overuse of italicised and bold type, seemingly arbitrary underlining for emphasis, as well as two sentences ending in multiple exclamation marks. And here’s the thing: so much as I want the money to be able to buy all these overpriced texts, I’m not really sure that I can deal with emails, seminars, and generally, guidance from people who write like that.

Of course, some may say that I’m pre-empting my not joining the programme, and thereby providing convenient justification for continued lack of progress in terms of publication and the like. This may well be true, or part of the truth. But I’d want a programme such as this, if taken seriously by the University, to at least have a filtering mechanism in place whereby correspondence inviting people to become part of the research community satisfies the same standards expected of the research itself.

Or maybe the email does satisfy those standards, which is perhaps the most disturbing thing of all.

By Jacques Rousseau

Jacques Rousseau teaches critical thinking and ethics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, and is the founder and director of the Free Society Institute, a non-profit organisation promoting secular humanism and scientific reasoning.