When I graduated from university in 1979, I could think of nothing worse than being an academic. In my mind, every year academics stayed in place and got older and older while a new crop of bright young things arrived to make them feel their age. Besides which, a vibrant career in TV production beckoned with a job at the BBC and a shared house in London.
When I left the BBC in 1986 I had just reached that state of grace equivalent to being 'tenured'. I moved from short term contracts to 'pensionable staff' and it felt like a life sentence. Surely I couldn't do this for another 35 or 40 years. I wasnt certain what I was missing, but I knew that there was something not quite right - for me. I felt dissatisfied and disengaged. My 24/7 work life ate my hours and my energy, yet it seemed to require a perfunctory approach. I felt I had no time to go deeper, enjoy investigation for its own sake, or respond to interviewees as individuals. I looked around for a career change that wouldnt see me slide all the way back to an ignominious 'Go' and spotted an advertisement to teach TV production in Perth. I intended to stay five years: tops.
I've been at WACAE (the Western Australian College of Advanced Education) and ECU for 23 years now - this from someone who found London and the BBC boring after seven. The difference between my experiences in London and Perth is two-fold: research and students. My career in researching and writing about communications and media studies allows me to engage more deeply, and paradoxically with greater breadth, than any of my TV assignments ever did. Once I was encouraged to publish, and then to apply for grants, it seemed as though I had broken through the cloud-cover and could see from the mountain-tops. I make a bigger difference now than I ever could in a weekly TV show. I generate new findings and ideas, and help fashion an agenda for the future of my discipline.
Yes, every year I get older but it's not that my students stay uniformly young (or uniformly anything). I'm entranced by their individuality, their passion, their purpose and their love for their subject and their topics. Some students join ECU and start their own careers here. It's like being supported by friends and family with bonds far deeper than a simple student/teacher link. The power of being researchers and discoverers together is truly transformative. Naturally, it doesnt all happen at once. Yes, I have one in two papers rejected; I might lose three in four grant applications. But I know why I do it, I know that its important, and I know that Im not the least bit bored.