Hello, hello, everyone! Just your friendly-neighborhood-blogger here, having some deep thoughts about university and academia. For the new kids on the block (continuing with the neighborhood theme), I am currently an undergraduate at a prestigious university, submitting applications to graduate school in the hopes of one day getting my PhD.
Basically, I LOVE learning. Things like 12-page research papers and 3-hour lab discussions excite me, because they are projects that broaden my mind and help me appreciate the nuances of the subject.
Yesterday, I called my best friend and was telling her about one of my lectures, explaining the ins and outs of magic, science, and religion (yes, it’s a very strange and very fun class). She interrupted me mid-way, and asked, “Can you please talk like a normal person? I don’t understand what you’re saying.” I hadn’t even realized the amount of scientific jargon and academic analysis I was pouring into my monologue – if the point of speaking is to communicate your thoughts and have the other person understand, then I was doing a pretty poor job of it.
Who does academia serve? I mean this as a genuine/I-don’t-really-know-the-answer-myself sort of question. Do we do research in order to better humanity? Increase the stash in our bank of knowledge? Have fun with philosophical debates? When academics write articles and journals, are those articles supposed to be accessible to everyone, or to just a small portion of the population?
Whenever I head into the libraries, I like to pick up random books and read them for a couple of hours. At my university, I often-times close the books after a few minutes. I do this, not because I’m stupid or lazy, but because these books are intended for a select audience that I am not a part of. These novels are for people who already have bachelor’s degrees, who already have conducted independent research and are used to the specialized language of their department. They are not beginner-friendly in the slightest.
And, you know, in a way this makes perfect sense. Let’s be honest, how many non-academics would truly enjoy sifting through a 300-page paper on the sewer system of Classic Maya’s middle class? Or reading a 100,000 word report on dumpling production in 14th-century China?
But, on the other hand, what about papers and articles and journals that actually affect peoples lives? What about all those reports on poverty levels, nutrition, natural disaster prevention, etc.? Not only are these papers written in technobabble, but they are literally hard to find – you often need special access to library websites and good wifi in order to get them. Don’t the people featured and scrutinized in these reports have the right to comprehend them? To use the information found to better their own communities, without the condescending attitudes of outsiders? When we limit the audience we’re addressing, we’re also limiting the amount of people we can impact with this knowledge.
The most important thing is to understand who you are trying to reach, and what you are trying to accomplish. The professors who write theoretical material intended only for other professors are rational and justified in their use of scientific jargon and obscure quotations. But for the academics who write in order to change the world, clear communication amongst the masses should always trump elitist views of intelligence.