WARNING: this blog post is immensely self-indulgent.
This is the fourth post in my June Blogs series, and the first one I’ve had to write under real time pressure. I’ve got half an hour to get this written, posted, tweeted and also make some edit’s to yesterday’s post on Neurodivergence and Neurodiversity.
Coincidentally, this afternoon came the announcement that I’ve been promoted. As of August 2020 I will be Professor of Developmental Psychology at the University of Edinburgh. It seems like a timely moment to say something about what that job title means, and how I got here. So first, the question everyone outside academia asks:
Does that mean my job will actually change?
Nope, not really. On a day to day basis, I will do the same stuff. Apply for grants, supervise students, write papers, sit on the odd committee, try to make some positive change in the world by doing science. I’ll still be Director of the Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre too. Working in the same office, with the same people. Phew!
In which case, why did I bother painstankingly constructing 34 pages of documents (including a 26 page CV) aiming to persude the promotions committee to give me this new job title?
Well, of course, money. It comes with a raise, so that’s nice. But honestly money is not the main motivator. In fact when the economic consequences of the pandemic became apparent I wrote to my University Principal to say that, speaking as someone who was (at the time) under consideration for promotion, I’d be very happy to get the job title with no raise.
Instead, the real benefits are more ephemeral than that. There’s a huge slice of validation for a start. All the hard work I’ve poured into research, all the papers I’ve published and talks I’ve given… This is like someone saying “that’s good stuff, Sue”. A promotion to professor is a lot about recognising academics that have become respected in their field and are making a really substantial and important contribution. It’s totally amazing to be on the receiving end of this.
The other big thing is feeling like I have a bit more clout now. I’ve never exactly been a wallflower, but I definitely feel like this gives me a permission slip to speak up more authoritatively on what I believe. I think it will be easier to express things like my research priorities (participatory methods, a rights-based agenda) and how I think academia needs to change (abandon the myth of “meritocracy”, genuine inclusion).
One last thing I’m excited about is having a job title that actually says what I do. Senior Research Fellow doesn’t mean much. Director of the Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre is better, but only if you only know a bit about what the SMRC does (research on neurodiversity and inclusive learning). But Professor of Developmental Psychology – that’s very pleasing!
…and what about how you got here?
Well, mostly privilege! Don’t get me wrong – I work hard, I’m proud of what I do, I am happier than most to toot my own trumpet. But the bottom line is that I have been lucky from birth.
For example, my parents paid for my education and while I would never claim it was “better” than a state school, it gave me a breadth of opportunity and a range of supports that set me up with a quite revolting amount of self-confidence. Much later when I was hopping from short contract to short contract, post-PhD, I took professional risks safe in the knowledge that my family would help me out with the rent payments if I needed it.That meant I stayed in academia when others would have had to prioritise greater job security. And even now, inherited money means I have a much smaller mortgage than I would otherwise. This in turns allows my husband and I to pay for a cleaner and an after-school nanny, allowing us both to work full time and not have to catch up on work (too much) at evenings and weekends.
On top of these economic advantages, I’ve never been ill, never experienced a major trauma, never had to care for someone else. I’m cisgender, white and able-bodied. All of this has made it easier for me to forge a path in the competitive and demanding world of academic research.
I want to end this post with a quick thank you…
…to all the amazing people who’ve helped me on this journey. Every project I’ve done has been a team effort. While writing a new grant I draw on expertise from the Research Support Office at my University, and when running a project I am supported by our HR, admin, finance and communications teams – people like the inimitable Sue Davidson and Ali Irving. I am delighted to work with a team of superb students and early career researchers who astound me constantly with their drive, creativity and excellence. I have been mentored and advised by some of the most incredible people in my field – Sue Leekam, Helen McConachie, Franky Happé and Sue Gathercole to name a few. At University of Edinburgh I’ve found an enormous and receptive group of colleagues to numerous to mention by name (what if I miss one out?!). Most of all, my family extend enormous patience and understanding to me and my career. I wouldn’t be here without their love and support.