Academia is an environment puzzling to everyone involved – and everyone uninvolved. Academia can be thought of as a thought experiment that shouldn’t actually exist. The self-sustaining, perpetuum-mobile-like existence of academia is one of the greatest mysteries of the capitalist universe.
Where but in the academia do you pay to work (as opposed to being paid for work)? Where but in the academia do you get qualified for jobs that don’t exist? And where but in the academia shall you never lose your job once you obtain it? (The last point remains a controversy, as it doesn’t apply to newcomers. Quite the contrary, the fresh PhD’s first commandment is Thou shalt not obtain an academic job.)
Admittedly, I first found the academic logic puzzling. I went so far as to think the childish thought that it was unfair that I shouldn’t get a job for which I’m better qualified than the current holder of the job. I’m happy to report though that I’ve now adjusted well and no longer harbour heretic ideas of fairness. While fairness doesn’t apply, what does apply wonderfully is absurd humour – academia remains an inexhaustible source of the grotesque.
Consider my supervisor, for example. I’ve been very much doing her job for the last five years – that’s part of the student–supervisor contract – and I’ve grown quite good at it. It’s an atypical arrangement in that I get paid, in money and food stamps. I’ve been ghost writing articles and grant projects, preparing conference presentations and producing lots of proofreading. I find it curious that our fruitful collaboration continues even after I’ve completed my studies, but I’m not complaining – because food stamps.
While I thought I was realistic about my supervisor’s professional skills, she still sometimes takes me by surprise. It’s to be expected that academics aren’t tech savvy – our department’s secretary, who is the most skilled of us all, produces class timetables in Word because she is positively scared of Excel – and I regularly receive desperate requests from staff who can’t save a document in the .pdf format or are frightened to death because their publisher sent them their paper back in a .doc file with change tracking enabled.
What amused me the most today though was the discovery that my supervisor can’t actually use Power Point. She can’t use it to the extent that she is unable to create a slide, put in some text or (all academic gods forbid) picture or even delete an existing slide. This resulted in the ridiculous situation in which I’ve prepared her conference presentation and got it returned from her with the request to delete slides number two and four.
Academic staff don’t learn – because they are staff already – so I quickly suppressed the thought that I might teach my supervisor some Power Point for dummies. I mean, for academics. After the Power Point incident though, I feel awkward around her because I fear I might let slip some scary piece of information, such as that the mouse can right-click. (That’s convenient when one needs to delete a Power Point slide, for example.)
It might appear that I bear grudge against my supervisor. That’s not the case at all. She’s a sweet and helpful person who supervised me precisely the way I wanted it – without interfering. (And she got a rewarding surprise when I showed up for my viva and she learned the topic of my dissertation for the first time on the spot.) I very much like her and even owe her, though I hate the concept of owing to people. Let’s say, I’m indebted to her, and so is she to me – because Power Point.