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Attended a lecture in our department by a staff member of our department. Should be cozy and nice right. Well, not quite.

Looking around the room, I wondered at how things have changed. A couple of years back, I’d have been agog with interest and enthusiasm, gearing up to contribute to an exciting discussion. Now I find myself scanning the room and struggling to keep a poker face and not to roll my eyes because I can see all the posturing.

First we are urged to come sit in the front row, but the minute some senior person walks in there’s this silent pressure to move. Or to pull out more chairs for everybody. Apparently, this is the duty of the junior people in the department. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised given the part of the world I’m in, where hierarchy still prevails, but given the discipline I’m in, I thought the point was the smash these systems. Bah.

Then, the way questions are asked to the speaker and the politics of it. If the speaker is well-liked, the questions are less acerbic. The expressions around the room less smirky. Also who gets to speak. Two years down the line I realised, there really is an order in which people should speak and students are not high up in that order.

There are a couple of people in the department I really admired when I started. I still admire them as intellectuals. But as people, not anymore. I realised they are scary fake. Realizing that gave me a shock, even though I’m quite a cynic. I didn’t realise people could pretend to be that nice and end up being the opposite. It made me take a hard look at other people and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s hard to find nice people at the professor grade or thereabouts. Maybe because academia is so cut-throat these days that they are constantly embattled. I think it was easier to find nice people in the corporate sector ironically. Or maybe I never expected much in the first place.

The junior staff are much nicer. But I realise they are on the make too. They have to be to progress. So they choose who they give their attention to, and us being students, they don’t want to be seen interacting too much with us. There are I think exactly two people who fall into this category among the many quite nice ones.

Maybe the only people one can get on with are one’s peers, if at all. Even they, I guess, one will have to watch out for because we are all competing for such a small slice of the pie? Though there seems to be some genuine camaraderie among peers.

When I look at the new students in the department, I’m reminded of myself. How naive I was in some ways. How I wanted to read everything and do everything and be everything. There is one guy who keeps citing theory after theory and babbling about how he wants to “use” this and “use” that. And I was the same. Until I realised – two years down the line – that the boring things some people were telling me was true. You can’t apply everything and many of those big names are irrelevant to a work grounded in Asia. Then another girl wants to read everything. That was me too. Until I realised there isn’t time. You need to know what you want to do and read only what is directly useful. Such is a three-year PhD. Maybe it’s different if you have the luxury of time.

I feel so jaded, similar to when I was at the end of my MA, but not as fed up with the work itself. I still love what I do, even if noone else does.

 

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