As a number of readers would know (because they were there!), at last year’s CSAA annual conference I was shuffled in as the representative for postgrads on the CSAA Executive.
The first thing I am trying to do is to create a wiki on the CSAA website for postgraduates. This postgraduate wiki will serve as a ‘living document’ to hopefully help postgraduates during and after their candidature/degree. The goal is to begin addressing the problem of, firstly, defining what it is to be a postgraduate, and, secondly, outlining some of the common issues involving Cultural Studies postgraduate students and those who have actually completed their studies. The wiki will be constructed by postgraduates or those who have recently finished studying as postgraduates. The following are some ideas I am developing for the executive meeting coming up. Feedback from all relevant parties would be appreciated!
A document of this kind is necessary because postgraduates exist in a grey area between academic staff and students. For example, I once read that a PhD is both one’s first scholarly work and one’s last student essay. Indeed the lack of a clear definition is evident in the literature on the DEST website. University staff are most often defined in terms of academic staff and non-academic staff. Postgraduates are normally thought of as apprentice academics yet the reality is that they often do the work of actual academic staff while they are postgraduate students as research assistants, tutors, lecturers or course covenors, but once they finish their degree they can not actually get a job as an academic. In what sense is a postgraduate degree an apprenticeship, if one can not get a job in the given (academic) vocation relatively soon after finishing?
The other major issue I am trying to begin addressing with this wiki is the involvement of non-university based practioners of Cultural Studies within the association. There is a long history in Cultural Studies exemplified by individuals (such as Meaghan Morris) or entire cohorts (many of the postgraduates in the early days of the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies), whereby one did not have to have an institutional home at a university to be considered doing cultural studies research or contributing through other scholarly work or practical engagements. For example, Morris worked as a journalist for a long time, while the postgrads at the BCCCS did postgraduate research to help them with local problems in their communities. The restructuring of scholarly work around project (or ‘event’) based researching funding locks out from the association and the circuits of conferences and research funding those who have pursued different professional paths and who may be employed in the media or cultural industries or other social institutions (governments, unions, organisations, etc). The career is now though of something produced rather than something you end up with at the end ot it. The ‘career’ needs to be rethought organised around a critical commitment and expressions of this through practical engagements rather than only as a successful publication record. That is, in the context of postgraduates, ‘professional development’ needs to be rethought to take into account the realities of the current research funding situation. What does it mean to be an early career non-ECR? So the actual situation of ‘non-institutionalised’ cultural studies practioners that have completed some form of postgraduate degree/diploma. What are the actual prospects for newly minted MA or PhD students? What are the different jobs that actual graduates have pursued? How can you be involved in the CSAA more? What has to happen?
Those familiar with wikis will know the general layout. Another dimension of the wiki will be as an online resource for links to articles or other resources for postgraduate students in Cultural Studies regarding issues of graduate student labour, lifestyle/problems, variance between national contexts (here I am thinking primarily between Aus and the US), but also variance between Australian states and territories, and, a very important issue, sources of funding!
I will be calling on several friends or interested parties to write short (roughly two paragraph) ‘seed’ documents for the wiki so a basic database architecture and thematics can be established. What should these themes be is another question I need help on.
To paraphrase the hair dye ad, I am not expecting this to happen over night, but it will happen. It will happen because it needs to happen. No one is going to do it for us. We need to produce our own supports and spaces of discussion.
EDIT: Plus I need a catchy title! Suggestions?
Oh, and this has not happened yet, it still needs to go to the executive, plus the actual wiki needs to be sorted with the website guy. Patience!