I Am a Woman, I Am Well Educated and I Have Something to Say! So You Just Listen!

Gender doesn’t come into it.  Academic status doesn’t come into it.  It’s experience and skills that count… At least this is what I believed in until recently.

Gender does matter, being a man helps.

Academic status does matter, having a string of letters after your name makes your voice louder and clearer.

And don’t get me started on the colour of my skin?  It is not white, so what!

Being a Chinese woman working in a specialist technical setting at one of the world most renowned art university, I tick all the wrong boxes.

What makes it worse is the fact that I am as educated, if not more so than some of my colleagues.

To finish me off, I have sound ideas and I have our students’ interests at heart.

However, having been a ‘lowly’ technician for a number of years, I am effectively a subspecies, my suggestions are sometimes heard but never listened.

When I finished my PgCert, I said to myself, imposter syndrome, no more!  I am going to make myself listened to good and proper.

How very wrong was I!  AGAIN!

An academic librarian told me recently that the fact I work as a technician, my academic qualifications don’t matter, because I don’t need it in my role.  Well, nor does she! I was trying so hard not to give her a counter attack with arguably, the most insulting question an academic librarian with the FHEA status could be asked, “So what exactly is it that you teach?  What make you think you deserve your Fellowship title?” But I didn’t, because I respect all of us, irrespective of roles and responsibilities, we all have varying degree of teaching and learning responsibilities with our students, we all play a part in our students’ learning journeys.

“But you are just a technician…”

Yes I am, so what!  I teach just as much, if not more because to have a tutorial with me, students don’t usually have to book an appointments weeks in advance and I don’t usually set a timer, metaphorically or literally.  They always get more out of me then I ever could out of my tutors when I was a student.

I think we, art and design technicians working in HE, are a rather specific type of people, because I have yet to meet a technician of any other type, HE or not, do nearly as much teaching as we do.  So why do I (and indeed many other) feel like we are a subspecies?

“Because you are a technician…”

Oh shut up!!  Just shut up.

Sadly, this is the reality of working in academia at the best of time, there is a very well and somewhat ill defined packing order.

I suppose in some ways, this article I am writing is a form of therapy to let out all my anger and frustration of what I think is wrong with our teaching approach.  Most importantly, to make people listen to what I have to say.

In Ruth Leitch’s Outside the Spoon Drawer, Naked and Skinless in Search of My Professional Esteem, she wrote about her struggles of trying to gain the respect as an academic from her arguably more academically qualified colleagues.  I wonder how much of these struggles were actually tangible and how much of them were self imposed due to the fact that she didn’t have the ‘appropriate’ academic title as a Head of a Graduate School?  I am still a firm believer that experience counts for a lot but perhaps it is not entirely the case in the world of Academia?

Leitch describes how she decided to go and do a Ed.D after years of practising and teaching students who were going to be more ‘qualified’ than herself. What was the motivation if not for self esteem and an attempt to cure her self imposed imposter syndrome?  Or was it more about the fact that she wanted to find a bigger voice than the one she already has? Did she just want to be better and bigger than her peers?

It’s like somewhere I don’t just want to be good enough, I do really want to be better than.  Maybe they were right back then, when I was nine, “I do always want to be top-cat,” I can’t bear “not to be the winner” (Leitch, 2006)

My question is this: Is publishing your writing (research) one of the very few ways to have your ideas taken seriously in academia?  Or is it all just about self esteem and trying to prove that you are better than those who surround you? Maybe it is both but I think being a member of a PhD community does give you the edge as you are by default surrounded by the ‘right’ peers.  Perhaps it could also give you a half legitimate license to say your are a researcher so what you’re saying are both backed up by sound ideas and seem important.

As I have mentioned earlier, I don’t want to be ‘just a technician’.  I am not ashamed to be a technician, in fact I am quite proud of it. However, there is a big big difference between just a technician and a technician, at least in academia.  So how do I break this vicious circle? I am afraid a fairly sure fire way is to gain more titles after my name and maybe during this process, I would be encouraged to produce more academic writing, to have my bleeding heart on display more often for my peers to criticise.  Hopefully, some days somehow I’d gain enough confidence in turning my ideas into something isn’t just anger and rant, something that people are genuinely interested in listening to.

If by putting myself through more brutal criticism by showing others my writing within a post graduate community of my choice, I’d end up with a PhD as a by-product, then I am OK with it.

What I am saying is that if by playing by the rules set out in academia, my supposedly better polished ideas that are already currently supported by my experience and interaction with students, could be further supported by a PhD status and such status could give me the appropriate credentials that afford me a louder and clearer voice then I think it would be mission accomplished.

Leitch, R. (2006) ‘Outside the Spoon Drawer, Naked and Skinless in Search of My Professional Esteem:  The Tale of an “Academic Pro”’, Qualitative Inquiry, 12(2), pp. 1-12.

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