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Guest Blog – The making of the clinical academic…the façade is slipping

I have a sneaking suspicion we are all pretending. We are all acting a part that we would like others to believe and that we are endeavouring to fulfil. Just for transparency my character has the title “Clinical Academic” but in brackets it says [not one nor t’other].

I suspect my most recent bout of chronic imposter syndrome is partly associated with having binge watched an entire series based on a certain socialite in New York (a German Heiress) who later turned out to be a fake. It’s very good. In the court case her lawyer makes a case that we are all exaggerating a little bit. He suggests we all tweak our social media accounts to only present the things we want others to see or think about us. He explained we all aspire to be something more, and we try to present that façade to the world. This is definitely the case in academia. We are trying to sell ourselves. We want people to invest in us, so we must portray ourselves as the best possible versions of ourselves.

Now, I confess I am, in many ways, completely comfortable with this. I love to celebrate my friends and colleagues’ successes. I much prefer a positive mental attitude. Trying to constantly commiserate or counsel friends and colleagues as well as patients is rather fatiguing. Happy, goal driven people are interesting and enlightening to talk to.

I generally consider myself an optimistic and open person, so whilst I am transparent about what I do, e.g. I have been blabbering on about a recent (huge for me) fellowship application I submitted to anyone and everyone- I have no idea if I will get it and will happily let people know if I don’t – that is fine- BUT! And this is probably a bit daft- I really don’t like people to know that I am only employed at the university for one-day a week. I am otherwise employed three days as a clinician- and on the other day I have a few mini contracts sorting bits and pieces out such as student placements/marking etc. In order to pull the wool over people’s eyes, I just don’t tell them unless I really have to. I wish to appear to be a dedicated academic. And a committed clinician. To do that I feel like I need to appear like I work in academia for most of the time.

This blog is turning into a bit of a confessional, but I have realised that this is all a bit ridiculous. I want people to believe that I am a real academic, and for some reason I feel this requires quantification in time. This bites me in the behind on occasion though, as I just can’t answer all my emails in a timely fashion (not with kids in the mix as well!) and I can’t always make meetings on the days everyone else can. The obvious solution would be to put an automatic response on my email letting people know this right! OR perhaps a little line in my signature flagging I work part time. Well instead I written this enormous confessional. And as I do I wonder if anyone other than me really cares. I am guessing that no-one else has every really wondered what my hours are, as long as I get things done.

So, with this new me in mind- I am off to add an automatic response to my university email account. I am going to worry less about what people think about how many hours I work and I am going to be an open and honest clinical academic…who sells herself to all the right grant funders!


Author [1]

Dr Anna Volkmer [2] is a Speech and Language Therapist and researcher in Language and Cognition, Department of Psychology and Language Sciences, University College London. Anna is researching Speech and language therapy interventions in language led dementia and was once voted scariest speech and language therapist (even her children agree).

Follow @volkmer_anna [3]