Notes on the Academy has now been in operation for a little over a year. We have tried, during this period, to bring you a perspective on academia that is both honest and hopeful.
Why did we start this project? All too often, honest criticism of academia that is offered in good-faith is either blunted to begin with, or ignored entirely. Talking about academia can be very confusing: form is routinely confused for essence, process is almost always mistaken for substance, and a forensic dissection of petty intrigues is what passes for structural criticism. Matters are confused further by groups within academia that actively disorganise and scuttle any meaningful resistance. We wanted to change the way certain conversations are had. Every new crisis reminds us that our work is far from done and, happily, that there is much to learn in the process.
With this in mind, we feel the moment is ripe for an expansion in our activities. Starting soon, Notes on the Academy will have two brand new sections.
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-The NotA Collective
The past year has witnessed a striking number of deaths by suicide at institutions of higher learning in India. It is often difficult to talk about these events, tragic and inexplicable as they are. Harder still is the task of navigating the discourse surrounding suicide and its prevention that inevitably follows. A reliable pattern of response has now been established, to which all concerned parties hew closely:
- University press offices rush out statements, careful to distance themselves of all blame. Committees will be formed, which in a few weeks or months will invariably find that although it was all really very tragic, the only effective mitigation strategy is to spread “awareness”.
- Tenured professors on Twitter will bemoan the loss of young, talented academics, and remind their followers of the importance of mental health and “getting help” in a timely and responsible fashion. They assure us that they too appreciate the pressures of being a young academic, having also been young academics once. For their part, students on Twitter will retweet these exhortations; most of them will do so mechanically but a few will do so with anger and passion that inspires hope.
- Journalists interfacing with academia will mutter words like “systemic” and “structural” and quote tweet university press handles, focusing their criticism on how sentences are phrased. Some will commission articles on the ballooning crisis of mental health in academia, informed by what passes for progressive senior academics, and occasionally counsellors with experience treating mental illness.
- Most of the above parties will congratulate each other on a job well done. Any differences that arise in this churning are buried, or left unaddressed.
Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
We believe that, like us, our readers are inundated with and sick of mental health advisories, op-eds, and press releases. Instead, we’re going to try and understand this crisis of mental health as an inevitable outcome of the way academia is organised.
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This article is a compilation of my thoughts, mostly disagreement and criticism (or rather a myriad of questions I have) of Inventa – the endeavor started by a group of students from various elite science institutes (IISERs, NISER, CEBS & IISc) to communicate science.
On their website, they say, “As students of science, we believe it to be of utmost importance to be able to communicate the fruit of our [scientific] work, to the masses” (emphasis mine). As agreed by many fellow researchers, it is our responsibility to communicate our science to a broader audience. But, my question is, who are the masses?
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