My Quest To Change Perspectives Within Academia
I remember sometime in February last year, just as I enjoyed one of the better months of being self-employed, I made a decision to pursue a Master’s degree abroad. It happened just a couple of months before I got hitched, so it was a collective decision between my partner and I. She was apprehensive but supportive, and I have her to thank for first and foremost, in supporting me throughout.
Between the time when the decision was made till it actually happened, questions were pouring in from people around me asking about my decision on going back to school. I have not had the time to write it about until now, so here goes…
I have a passion for teaching, and I want to contribute to the learning of the next generation, particularly in the field of entrepreneurship. My motivation traces back to when I first caught the entrepreneurial bug in early 2011, just into the second semester of my freshman year. At that point, entrepreneurship was not as publicised and glamorised as it is now in the national media and within the school system. In my pursuit of entrepreneurial studies, I integrated my extracurricular learning into my higher education by being part of the minority that chose entrepreneurship as a second major. My overall experience of the school’s programme was not bad, but it was not that great either. The best classes I enjoyed were the ones that involved guest speakers and by academics that had prior experiences in starting a company. The ones that I did not enjoy as much were by academics that did not have much practical entrepreneurial experience. They were largely skeptical of unconventional growth hacking practices that were widespread in the startup landscape, and we were often graded upon how well we knew the “textbook answers” on how to operate in the field. As an avid learner, the rigidity was a stumbling block.
The gap between industry and academia is a growing problem, with industry constantly outpacing the academic world. Although schools are paying more attention to bridge the gap, things are unlikely to change as long as research remains the sole currency of the academic world. The focus needs to shift more towards teaching, which has always been in a position similar to what silver is to gold. Teaching, when held in equal regard to research, would give the academic world the balance it needs with a constant reminder of never to be arrogant or complacent. When more attention is placed on a student’s learning experience, the whole education system progresses in tandem. Think MOOCs.
As you might have guessed by now, my reason for obtaining an advanced degree is to gain access into the academic world, and to make a difference there. There were two ways that I could have done it; the first would be to establish myself as a professional in my field and returning to teach. However, that would likely cause industry bias, just as how academics are biased towards research literature. The second way would be to properly establish my position in the academic world with a good understanding of the field, by countering the arguments and covering the research gaps with an industrial perspective that I’ve gained over the years.
I have chosen the latter and on that note…
I will be continuing on to a PhD after my Master’s programme.
I have been incredibly blessed with scholarships from the business schools that I have applied to, that are well-versed in area of entrepreneurship and innovation research. My work will revolve around dynamic capabilities, technology management and innovation clusters, within the domain of entrepreneurship. As for my own entrepreneurial endeavours, I am still very much involved in the operations of MITH Studio, albeit remotely. Recently, I have also launched a new passion project known as Founderstry. The basic concept is to promote learning through founder stories, and I have had a blast meeting different founders from everywhere. More on this in another entry as I would like to keep this current one concise.
I want to end off with a personal takeaway, hoping that it will resonate with you too— I have made some pretty big decisions in my life, and this has got to be one of the bolder ones. There are multiple ways to get to where you want to, and the key is to embrace change and to never stop trying. I am not sure how far I would go in terms of changing the way academia works, but I will definitely try to create as much impact as I can along the way. As humans, we are defined by the choices that we make and it is important that we do not live in the shadow of another, nor succumb to the fear of peer judgment. The only time when people truly appreciate you as an individual is when you are different and you let your voice be heard (for positive reasons of course). Be authentic, ambitious but always stay humble.
Thanks for reading!
Any comments or questions? I’d love to hear it from you below or on Twitter. It would encourage me to write more of such articles.
Thomas is the Founder and Creative Director of MITH Studio (Make-It-Happen Studio), an independent digital consultancy that offers full-stack design and development services.