University Professors are people who get long holidays. That seems to be a common public perception. As to what work they actually do, most people think that it’s teaching and marking, but as to research, few know what that means.
By way of example, I would like to explain what I do as many of you read this varied weekly column but may be unaware of the efforts that go into writing it. I wish it was just a matter of good English. The reality is more complex and requires me to travel, observe, listen, read and reflect. That takes time and resources.
As a Business Professor, I am expected to conduct research into economic matters. My specialist area is accounting and finance and you may all know someone in the family or friends circle who is an accountant or a banker. These are public professions where ethics and public interest protection ought to be central. Sadly, the reality is very different today. How to reform these disciplines is a central question of my research. And this work also influences the subjects I teach and the content of that teaching at undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
I have to publish the findings of the research in academic journals and books where the referees can be very harsh and critical often rejecting and failing manuscripts. Yes, we too get marked routinely and are evaluated by very high standards. And when we speak at conferences, we have to publicly defend our research.
I personally take my work seriously as I feel society is in a serious ethical crisis and needs urgent reforms. Big business and big finance ought to be a part of the solution but my research shows it is instead a part of the problem. To change this, not only do I conduct academic research and teach students to be more ethical and compassionate, but I also write and speak in media like iGlobal or the BBC. My latest book is going to be profiled by the BBC World Service for example.
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The reason I do this non-academic writing is that it is important to me how the public understand business even when they are not experts. After writing my articles I promote them through social media like LinkedIn or Facebook. Some people perceive this as self-publicity, but for me there is a deeper and more urgent motive - professionals and organisations need to change their thinking and behaviour to build a caring society otherwise we are doomed. Public engagement matters to me in transforming society.
Thank you for reading this column and following and sharing my words every week. It helps me to keep on writing and disseminating my research. As to those long holidays, they are spent reading and reflecting without the distraction of daily routines and administration – they are very precious for us in speaking truth to power. The research requires funding which is often very difficult to get – especially that which protects public and not private interests.
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So, if you have surplus wealth do think of supporting this kind of subtle but very important policy and educational work. And when you meet an expert whose work you do not understand ask them what they do and how they do it before making a judgment.
Professor Atul K. Shah [@atulkshah] teaches and writes about Indian wisdom on business, culture and community at various UK universities and is a renowned international author, speaker and broadcaster.