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Old people vs Academia.

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This week there has been a marked increase in my University workload, and with this, comes the natural rationalisation of time management.  You know, “okay Warwick, so only spend 2 hours on this”, or “This is bullshit, leave it til last” kind of rationalisation.

The problem with going from Industry to Academia after a *cough* lengthy break, is that you’re as ‘institutionalised’ (as much as you can be by reality) as academia is.


Case-in-point.  Last week we were taught about various methods of information gathering, and one of these was the humble interview.  In class, we were told to begin a draft of an ‘interview questionnaire’ to which I rubbed my hands with glee, and started writing a lengthy and complex questionnaire.  After an hour or so, the lecturer came over and had a chat to me. “Make it more conversational”, he said.  So I did.

Turns out, an ‘interview questionnaire’ is what you or me and the rest of anyone outside of academia would regard as ‘interview questions’ – you know, questions you’d ask in an interview.  In a master-class of passive-aggressiveness, the lecturer was kind enough to cite a reference for my benefit, telling me how wrong I was.

The next area of being lost-in-translation is the use of the term ‘context’.  We had to do 3 interviews, with at least one ‘out of context’.

It should’ve clicked with me that ‘out of context’ was meant in the way it was described after I’d spent 4 hours organising, going to, conducting, and transcribing an interview completely not related to my research question –


‘Out of Context’ would be for example asking questions about attitudes towards AFL football by asking supporters at a match, versus asking them at the pub after.


Or something to that effect.


Before knowing this, the lecturer freaked us out with tales of just how time consuming doing interviews are, saying that transcribing alone take him 5:1 – a 12min interview takes him an hour to transcribe.  Now my typing is atrocious, so I was thinking to myself “Okay, so if I do three interviews, my total time commitment to this could be… entire working day.”


Panic ensued.


Crapola.  I don’t have an entire day to devote to doing interviews.  I know what an interview is.  I’ve got a fair idea how to do them.  I’m self aware enough to know I’m not the best person for that job, but on topics I’m interested about I think I could do an okay job.  Okay, the lecturer has told us how tedious and time consuming it is, I’m happy to take his word for that.

Add all of that to the fact that we won’t be getting any feedback on how to do a better interview, nor will we be critiqued on our technique because nobody was there to watch us, nor will the lecturer have the 15 hours he would need to read all interviews from all students.  Not to mention I can get all the information I need from a real-world parochial ‘questionnaire’ (sorry, I mean a ‘self-assessment booklet’) so the interviews are pretty much useless.

Lo-and-behold, I did get a good dose of just how big a time sink interviewing is.  Door-to-door, including travel, re-writing the consent forms because they were rubbish, writing the questions, transcribing and editing one 15 minute interview took me 3 hours.  Pretty much as we were taught.  And the only thing we were taught, come to think of it.


The problem with entering academia after a long break is that you’re only interested in learning about things that will directly translate into reality.  You have to constantly try to relax and learn that its okay to learn about things for their own sake.  This is hard to do when you spend hours doing readings on anthropological theory, take notes you think are relevant to the commercial world, then in the tutorial you and your classmates are told to list the traits of structuralism versus post-structuralism.  I essentially sat there mute for two hours.


This course is strange like that.  A third of it is too easy, a third is trying very hard to be design relevant, and the final third I have no idea what just happened.



  1. Good reflections especially as an educator, I agree that courses can be irrelevant and sometimes things are thrown in to make up the time or so it seems. Once you have been in industry you do become more pragmatic and demanding. I have found this with my studies recently, I feel as though we have covered most things and the subjects on offer are somewhat repetitive.

    • wgresswell says:

      Yeah it doesn’t help that the course is somewhat in it’s infancy either. I also feel there’s a lot of “Well we’ll just provide you the tools, you figure it out” kinda ‘post graduate’ methodology, which I feel is in some ways a cop-out or code for “I’m actually a little bit slack”.

      It seems pretty ludicrous the time spent doing tasks vs the benefit gained, intellectually. We spend say a week on interviews of which I dedicate (including 3 hours of class time) about 10 hours in total, and then I might get a paragraph of feedback in the markings before we move on to the next item. 10 hours is a long time in the learning sphere to get nothing from it.

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