What is the value of academic identity?

by worriedteacher


A recent post by the Thesis Whisperer dealt the the issue of academics living in one place but working in another – or ‘fly-in-fly-out’ academia.

The post dealt positively with this phenomena in the sense that it offered suggestions for how to use the enormous amount of travel time experienced and how best to reduce stress and boredom.  Much related to my own experience of #fifoacademic life.

But, and this is a big BUT, the post made me really wonder what value we place on academic identities that would compel us to live such dispersed, displaced and torn lives.  Many people in the world are forced into such measures due to poverty and discrimination, a phenomena often referred to as ‘forced migration‘.  But, as academics in the global north we are privileged.  We are not displaced due to conflict, disaster, or imposed development (such as those being ‘removed’ in order to accommodate the World Cup in Brazil).  We CHOOSE to live these lives.

When I say ‘we’ I mean me.

I am about to start a new job that will see me travel hundreds of miles from my family and close friends to work in another city.  At my age (52), and having entered academia late in the day (and having been highly ambivalent about the career path thing), I find that I have few choices open to me in order to stay in this – and lets be honest here – relatively well paid and extremely pleasant occupation.

Most of my academic career has seen me work ‘elsewhere’.  I have only ever spent 2 years working in the same location as my family.  What a strange way to live.  What a strange choice to make.  Its not that somebody forced me into that situation.  I chose it.  I choose it again.  In choosing it I lived many lonely nights where I pretended that the pay-off was worth it, the ‘pay-off’ being career progression, or pension, or…  There was always an excuse.  For 8 years I even worked in a different country.

That is until the stress of that and my ambivalent relationship with academia resulted in a massive breakdown, a complete disintegration of the ‘self.

Which begs the question: Why am I doing it again?

In all honesty, I am not quite sure.  Now is not then.  There is the fear that I will end up in the same distress.  But, were it not for the unbelievable psychic pain and despair that accompanies depression, I would recommend a breakdown to anyone.  The learning that can come from such experience is invaluable, if you are lucky and wealthy enough to get the right support.  I was.  I have learned a lot that should make life ‘away from home’ less dangerous and toxic.

Depression is one term but I have come to the conclusion that what I, and many others experience, is better understood as ‘existential disruption”.  Such ruptures in our lives caused by choosing lives if displacement the #fifoacademic a curious phenomena indeed.

But existential disruption brought with it a re-centering of identity around more substantial things than publication record, committee work, conferences, and the like.

I hope it sustains me.

I plan to write about my experience of existential disruption and academic life soon.  But I would be interested to know how other people have ‘lived’ with FIFO.