Higher education is not for people like you

Higher education is not for people like you, I was once told.
Why isn’t it a place for me?
Is it because I am a woman?
Or because I am from the working class?
Or is it because I AM dyslexic?
Why isn’t higher education a place for me?
I have a degree like you.
I have a PhD like you.
Even though I am dyslexic.

Higher education is not for people like you, they said.
We write.
We publish.
Words have power,
And you can’t be trusted to get them right.
But why isn’t higher education a place for me?
I write,
And I am published.
I must have got the words right,
Despite that I am dyslexic.

Higher education is not a place for you, they cried.
We have complex ideas,
Which changes the world.
We articulate these with sophistication;
A skill you simply could not have.
Then higher education is a place for me.
As neurodivergent I see things differently.
I give you different solutions,
I offer alternate logic and different answers.
This diversity is powerful.
And all of this is because I AM dyslexic.

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Just One Head

A symphony of jargon
That creates its own world

An invisible bubble
Popping up
A few times a year in random cities
Inflated by joyous updates
And hunting absences

An invisible bubble
Popping
After five days
Leaving four hats behind:
Teaching Research Service Outreach

Just one head
To wear them

I am an Imposter

I am an imposter.
Likely to me and myself alone.
Others praise me and my work, yet I feel like a fraud.
Do I belong here?
Am I good enough?
Is my work of quality?
Does anyone really care?

Each day the countdown continues.
Closer and closer to my contract’s expiry.
I grapple with the decision before me.
Do I attempt to stay on this ferris wheel of mental torment?
Or seek a brighter future beyond the “”ivory tower””?
I can see that future.
It is a future with self-appreciation and quality sleep.

But what else can I do?
Overqualified, underqualified, and rarely well-qualified for other careers.
I seek opportunities where I see myself happy.
I seek opportunities where I see myself valued.
I seek opportunities where cishet white men are not the sole decision-makers.
I seek opportunities where the foundational roots are not inherently racist, sexist, classist.
Surely they exist. Surely I will be welcomed. Surely I will feel safe.
I hope.

Belonging in Higher Education

Where do I belong in this universe?
My tribe is marked by subject, classmates,
research group or department,
where I feel confident and supported

Graduation after one’s thesis-parent
has opened the door, introduced you
to new culture where you go for a drink,
talk shop, to field trips or conferences

Who gives you that first academic post,
the secure one, not the temporary one,
when you move from student to staff,
who decides if you can and what you teach?

Call it a jungle, line-up at watering holes,
watch out for big beasts, the ones you
need to review papers and performance;
just remember you will need a hand-up

No academic is an island, knowing terms;
global challenges require work in teams;
just chose yours carefully, or draw on the
right straw, and watch your students grow.

Questions

Will you miss the stink of sweat, tears, blood, or formalin?
Will you buy paintings of the cerebrum, cushions shaped like an anatomical heart?
Will you hear in the thud of your son’s bassline, a tachycardia, a lack of sinus rhythm?
Will your eyes strip strangers, peel back skin, marvel at the flesh knot, chalk bone beneath?
Will you diagnose bus passengers from a library of pathologies? Confer with the driver,
 improvise a ward round at each stop.
Will you move through days, languid as shifting sunlight in a vacant room?
Will you set dust motes spinning, multitudes of small, pointless enchantment?

Barred Doors

I know whiskey when I smell it
Down the hall and through the corridors
The chosen scent of patriarchy
Accept it or the doors are barred

You laugh when I say it’s a boy’s club
But you don’t live each day to count
The number like you in the classroom
The number like you who dropped out

When will we stand together
When will we find we are strong
Stronger than these fools in power
Outnumbering a rotten throng

Imposter Syndrome

Is it imposter syndrome
When I strongly believe I should be here
Yet
You tell me I don’t belong.

Am I fooling myself by believing
I belong
I am good enough
I am capable

But you tell me I don’t belong

When I ask for a caption
A list
A written summary

When I ask for a space
To park with my blue badge

When I ask for understanding
And patience
And trust

Yet I do not perform
Like you expect an academic
To perform

Am I really the problem
When you tell me I don’t belong?

25 years…

25 years since I took the plunge to go to university… and it changed my life forever
Left school at 16, married at 18, had 3 children by the time I was 25
Higher Education was not for the likes of me

25 years since my son and I started at uni together – I was 37 he was 18 – I thrived, he skived  
He dropped out – not me – I carried on… BA Hons, Masters then PhD … But….
Higher Education was not for the likes of me

25 years of marriage then fell apart since Higher Education had changed me…
Braver, brighter, stronger, no longer content to be a victim – but still…
Higher Education was not for the likes of me

25 years on and I’m still in Higher Education… now a Doctor, Senior Lecturer, Course Leader
Sole Bread-winner, house-owner, proud to be me – but still…
Higher Education is not for the likes of me

Inner Monologue at a Conference

A Perspex monolith at the edge of town
Opens its doors to a wave of odious intellect;
Glossy signs and fat pamphlets tell me:
These are these finest minds in humanity.
A balding gentleman is bent over himself,
Struggling to tie his shoelace.   

The fraying carpets of a previous administration
Hint at fleeting glories that have since passed;
Important looking notices tell me:
THIS IS THE MOST VITAL CONFERENCE IN HUMANITY.
Flyers in our welcome pack advertise
River cruises and nights at the opera.

Free wine and coffee combine to create
An atmosphere of compulsory enjoyment;
Conference assistants and helpers tell me:
This is the friendliest conference in humanity.
I see a former colleague and bow my head,
We pass like kidney stones in the night.

Early career researchers skirt the
Gravitational fields of the professoriate;
Coloured ribbons and rainbow badges implore us:
This is the most diverse conference in humanity.
At the plenary panel four white dinosaurs
Warn of their extinction.

I walk across the cavernous lecture theatre,
Palms sweating with nervous excitement;
The introductory slide sets out my argument:
This is the most important topic in humanity.
My words trickle through the audience,
Lost amongst the emails and polite applause.

Some Sense of Belonging

Working off campus has broken a routine
more opportunities to attend online sessions
in relation to any number of issues and realities,
greater flexibility and understanding.

Working off campus has broken a routine
I have found it easier to manage my condition
it is easier to manage pain and fatigue,
and I am in a better state of mind becau­se of it.

Working off campus has broken a routine
it has actually improved
my ability to communicate with others,
as they are easier to get in touch with.

Working off campus has broken a routine
it made meetings more democratic as it was
now more difficult for dominant personalities,
to talk over other participants.

Working off campus has broken a routine
It has led to improvements in online educational
experience and enabled communication,
with students outside.

Working off campus has broken a routine
I have experienced genuine collegiality
and community during lock-down,
I feel we all came together.

Working off campus has broken a routine
I have seen the efforts of a lot of amazing people
trying their hardest to perform a difficult job,
under far from ideal conditions.

Working off campus has broken a routine
my plea is to pause on that
and allow us to re-connect in person,
to the sense of belonging we had.