Academia come-back

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It’s been a tough road graduating from an MSc to starting a PhD. I knew, back when I graduated, that I wanted to take a year off from academia, just so that I could breathe again and take my mind off essay writings and other scholarly exercises that had been required of me to produce for four years in a row. I felt that taking a break from academia and experiencing the real world could give me some insight as to what I wanted to do for my thesis, and embellish my CV.

Instead, I ended up taking two years off, had three different non-academic related jobs and did a lot of extra non-paid academic work. I’ve learned a lot about myself, about other people, about work-life, and the ‘real world’. I’ve especially witnessed how much I missed academia and how much I wanted to do a PhD.

Things I’ve accomplished in the last two years:

  • 4 Conference papers
  • 2 Research assistantships
  • 1 Published article
  • 1 Article Reviewing
  • 1 Business blog post

Looking back at this it feels like I’ve worked my way up to academic life. But the reality is that the road was quite bumpy. I was what they call an ‘independent researcher’ and I totally loathed the designation. It’s what academia calls researchers who aren’t directly affiliated to a university (e.g. no uni email address, not currently enrolled in a uni program, etc.). It’s probably the most denigrating term one can be assigned to. It’s like you’re no one. Really.

I could write conference papers, but I could not go to the conferences due to a lack of funding – I wasn’t a student anymore so I wasn’t entitled to get any grants. I was lucky enough to write co-authored papers and have my co-author present our work in conferences.

The moment I finally got admitted to a PhD program and got a university email address, was probably one of the most triumphant moments yet of my new academic life. It meant that I could sign up for services that only academic researchers have access to, and to build my network on online platforms.

Current to-do list:

  • Re-write thesis proposal x1
  • Creative writing x2
  • Tutoring x1

And lots and lots of reading. I need to get going, time’s ticking.

Pre-doctoral thinking process

*Girl raises hand* “Excuse me, but how do you actually know you want to do a PhD? How can you tell?”

About a year ago I went to a career event from my alma mater on ‘Thinking about doing a PhD’. We were a bunch of graduates or graduants sitting in a semi-circle and listening to an academic talk about her experience doing a PhD. It was all very interesting and insightful, although I truly went there just to feel a bit comforted in my decision to start a PhD program the year after.

Everyone asked standard questions except for one girl who asked how one knew if they wanted to do a PhD. A few people sniggered in the room and the guest speaker painfully smiled back at the graduant. How can you answer that question? Either you know or you don’t.

A lot of people I meet think that doing a PhD means that you can just start a new ‘project’ for a few years. That it’s fun and you can stay a student eternally without worrying about the real world. If that’s why you want to do a PhD, forget it. What people never mention is how the PhD is just the beginning of a very long and tedious process to enter the academic world. Doing a PhD is just not enough these days.

*Guest speaker clears throat* “Umm…you need to figure that out for yourself?”

You either know or you don’t.

Anti consumerism and the concept of Hygge

Christmas is approaching and high streets are filling up with incontrollable consumers who are looking into buying last-minute presents. Consumerism is at it’s highest during this period of time, shops/brands take advantage of this situation. On the net, many Christmas-related UK articles (i.e. Telegraph, BBC) have been rooming over one particular concept: it’s the Scandinavian (or more specifically Danish) concept of Hygge.

The term could be translated as the act of feeling or being ‘cozy’. This manifests itself usually with having home-made meals, with candles, at home, with your friends of family, thus allowing a more intimate experience. Another example would simply be to lay on the sofa, with warm woollen socks, and a nice cup of coffee.

As you might have already noticed, hygge is more of concept that portrays indoor experiences rather than outdoor experiences. It would never be considered hyggelig to go to a restaurant with your friends – as you have not prepared the meal and are paying for an external service. This last point shows that hygge is not about buying, but about making. It’s about being able to appreciate life without having to buy experience – if you know what I mean.

In fact, a Scandinavian anthropologist (Linnet, 2011) describes this subtlety:

 Analytically, hygge indexes a category of practices that, in various ways, entail the creation of temporary ‘shelters’ against social stratification, competition, and the market.

“Against the market”. Does that mean that through adopting the hygge concept, the UK is ultimately seeking to escape consumerism and dwell into traditionalism?

Ultimately, the way I see things is that anti-consumerism empowerment could be achieved through hygge, and that’s what the Brits are looking for. They want something real, something that they made themselves contrary; to a mass-produced products/experiences.

My only concern now is that if hygge is a culturally engrained Scandinavian concept, could the Brits really be able adopt it and assimilate it in their culture?

(Un)ethical motivations and behaviours in consuming fair-trade coffee

“We need adverts promoting low-carbon products as ‘good’ for the environment, but they need to be emotionally positive and sexy as well (and you, dear consumer, can be part of this great new club), to combat years of promotion of high-status, prestige cars (‘show that you’ve arrived’), sexy air travel and exotic food from all round the world.” (Beattie, 2012)

Beattie (2012), as well as other authors, state three major problems potential green consumers are confronted in everyday life choices: having to make a quick choice (emotional response), a sexy one, and an effortless one. Effortless in the sense that No matter how favourable consumers are to eco-friendly attributes of a product, they want to buy the products that do not conflict with their established lifestyle (Manaktola & Jauhari, 2007).

Let’s take London for example: it is by far one of the busiest capital cities in the world. Coffee shops submerge (not just big chains such as Starbucks, Costa!) the city, attracting on-the-go consumers who are on the run to work.

A perfect way to engage in that attitude is to consume fair-trade coffee. Around 70 million cups of coffee are consumed each day in the UK. The total coffee market was worth £737.4m in 2009 and is forecast to grow to £880.2m by 2014. (Fairtrade.net, 2014). The UK seems to be one of the leading countries to consume fair-trade coffee. This new ‘trend’ market is increasing rapidly and should be looked upon more closely. Questions such as “what are the motivations in consuming fair-trade coffee” should be investigated further.

My attempted explanations are as follows:

  • Social inclusion/interaction: Historically, coffee consumption has always been a very social act (aka ‘coffee culture’) in European/Western culture. Consuming fair-trade coffee does not change one’s lifestyle (e.g. Manaktola & Jauhari, 2007), and at the same time allows you adopt a ‘responsible behavior’. Consuming coffee allows the individuals to consume and exchange in public/private, instead of consuming other green products individually (such as clothing), and therefore is effortless (you do not need to cook a whole meal).
  • Desirability/sexiness: As Beattie (2012) points out, social desirability is a key point in the consumption of green products. Green consumer scientist guru, Griskevicius (2010), points out how purchasing green goods is closely related to status competition, to socially be seen as purchasing a pro-environmental good. This can be related to fair-trade coffee, as the act of buying and consuming the good can be made in public (in coffee shops; on the street; in the office: on Instagram).
  • Morality: Fair-trade coffee advertisement usually includes moralistic framings (e.g. FairTrade), which might encourage consumers to purchase the green product (e.g. Bolderdijk et al., 2012).

Could we deduce then that social desirability is primary (is the main reason for fair-trade coffee consumption) and environmental concern is secondary (or non-existent)?

And if so, is this only UK specific or do the biggest coffee drinkers per capita in Europe (Scandinavian countries), for instance, consume fair-trade coffee for the same reasons?