Doctoral and early-career researchers are encouraged to sign up for courses that offer career development advice. Most of these workshops and courses focus on technicalities – this is how to construct your cv – or on strategies – get yourself a mentor, network network network. This kind of advice can be very helpful, and I certainly don’t want to argue that it’s not. I sometimes give this kind of advice too.
But all these courses and advice often fail to provide sufficient time and support to think about the purposes and conventions surrounding the academic profile. Or perhaps even what an academic profile actually is…
I think about the academic profile as a narrative. It is a narrative of the scholar we are and the scholar want to be. Put more simply, an academic profile is a story we tell to ourselves and to other people and organisations. Our profile story focuses on the kinds of scholarly work we have done, can do and hope to do in the future. It signals the particular scholarly interests we have, what we stand for and what we think is important. It brings together our various experiences, publications, networks, teaching and professional relationships. It traces our intellectual history and points to a path ahead.
An academic profile is also highly performative. It has to do work for us. The work we want our profile to do varies, but generally includes:
(1) instrumental work. We want our academic profile to help us do something – get a job either outside or inside a university, get funding, get published, tell readers who we are and the basis on which we write.
(2) disciplinary and scholarly work. We want our academic profile to indicate the kinds of intellectual traditions we work in, show the scholarly/policy/practice/professional communities with whom we sit and talk, and the ways in which our intellectual contributions to policy/practice/scholarly conversations have gone and will go.
An academic profile is profoundly text-ed. And there are multiple texts involved. Our prolife is our cv, but there may be multiple versions of that cv produced for different audiences. It’s also other texts that we produce for various purposes and people – bio-notes for publications and conference programmes; annotated publication lists for funders; about- me notes for web-pages, blogs and twitter. Our academic profile is distributed across and through multiple texts, platforms and media. However, at least some of these texts might well end up being read together so producing texts with some degree of cross-referencing is always a Good Idea.
An academic profile is of course also embodied. Whenever we present to a class, a conference, a meeting, at an informal event we begin to give off signals about ourselves as scholars. What we choose to speak about and with whom may or may not chime with the narrative that we want to construct about ourselves… So there is always a degree of self conscious-ness about the performative aspects of our profile that can be very disconcerting and self-conscious-making.
An academic profile is something that we can be more or less concerned about. We can deliberately think a lot and /or constantly about how we want to go about manufacturing our profile, or we can be somewhat more casual about it. Whichever of these options we choose, we should always, it seems to me, have in our mind the work we want our profile-narrative to do and, of course, who the intended audience of our text-ed profile will be. And we can think about the style. Academic profiles vary from the unbearably slick, the overwhelmingly self-absorbed and the simply overbearing, to something rather more conventional.
The point I’m making here is a pretty simple one. We choose the kind of academic profile – our texts and narrative – that we wish to convey to whom, and in what circumstances. This what those classes on doing your cv and how to get a mentor are actually about. They present the choices about how we want our scholarly selves and our work to be seen and understood.
Of course this doesn’t mean that our intentions for our academic profile are actually what happens when we/our narrative texts go out into the world… but that’s another post.