As some of you will know, although I retired from full-time University work some time ago I still keep close contact with the Institution where I studied and spend a lot of time around the place working with postgraduate students. So, when a couple of weeks ago I got the sudden urge to get back into the research field myself it seemed obvious that I should first discuss what I had in mind with the senior researcher in my general field of study.
Now, to be fair, since I completed my PhD the department has shifted considerably on its axis and the focus of most of the staff and students’ work is very different from what it was. I wouldn’t find anyone there capable of supervising my thesis these days. Furthermore, since I am (she says, blushing modestly) the UK expert in my field I would probably find it difficult to locate anyone nationally who could supervise the first part of what I wanted to do as it consisted of extending a system of narrative analysis into previously uncharted waters. But then I wasn’t looking for a supervisor, I was merely saying that I had some research I would like to do and asking if I could base it in the department so that I would have a community around me with whom I could discuss things. Research can be a very lonely occupation and anyone undertaking a long term project should ensure that they have as many sounding boards around them as they can find. I am not, it should be noted, any Tom, Dick, Harry or Alex walking in off the street and asking this. I have an Honorary Fellowship in this department; I belong.
Well, I was given a fair hearing, but then it was explained to me that the department really wouldn’t be interested because my work would have no impact. Have you come across the use of the word impact in HE circles? Basically, what it means in this context is money making potential. Any research undertaken by university lecturers these days has to impact upon the commercial world. Having importance in the world of academia is not good enough. Discovering something new that people will find fascinating and which might spark interest in your field in other scholars simply won’t cut the mustard. No, to be allowed to pursue your chosen research pathway you have to be able to show that someone, somewhere is going to pay to have access to the results.
Does this fill you with the same sense of horror that it does me? Isn’t education about learning rather than earning, or is that a very old-fashioned pre-Govian notion of mine? I think I would eventually have something very interesting to say about the progression from oral story-telling to the written form via the Elizabethan theatre and the consequent changing relationship between teller, audience and the society at large. But, surprise, surprise, this is not going to be of interest to big business, it isn’t going to make the university a fortune, it isn’t a project they feel they can encourage.
I don’t know what makes me feel the more discouraged, the fact that I really can’t explore what seemed to me to be a truly interesting line of thought or the changing nature of the university system in the UK. Where now does the scholar go who wants to develop a research profile in the world of the Arts or Humanities? I really don’t think this is something you can do without being part of an active community. That way lies the madness of Casaubon and we all know what happened (0r didn’t happen) to his magnus opus.
So, with great reluctance I have had to stash my great plans back into the inner recesses of my mind. The world will have to live without my words of wisdom on the prologues and epilogues of Jacobeathan plays and what they have to tell us about the morphing role of the story teller in our society. I was, of course, encouraged to look for something else that I could pursue, something that would have impact. But, as those of you who have followed the research path will know only too well, if you are going to devote all your energies to one particular course of study it has to be something you are happy to live with for the two, three, four, however many years it takes to complete and I have no intention of devoting the next half decade to making money for the current educational hierarchy.
PS Sorry for the rant. This is something I have needed to get off my chest and I thought you might understand.