Confessions of an invisible academic

So, on the summer of 2015, after having all my attempts of securing funding reach a dead-end, I decided that I am doing my PhD as a self-funded candidate. You see, I enjoy working in academia and I feel an obligation to continue serving my field, even when my field seems to not like me, trying to kick me away.

And while people might think that ‘self-funded’ is a synonym of ‘externally funded’ often alternating between terms, it is not. An ‘externally funded’ candidate is someone who has managed to obtain some funding from an external, non-university related source that is somehow interested in the candidate’s research, thus agreeing to fund him/her. A ‘self-funded’ one is somebody who does his/her own research, without having any earnings from that. Simply put, you work voluntarily for your university.

Therefore, in September of that year, I was back where I obtained my MA -in the ‘Venice of the North’- to pursue my dream of adding a ‘Dr.’ before my name. Suddenly, all my boasting while walking around my old hangouts in P.C. Hoofthuis and Singel 425 was quickly deflated when I realized I am not as advantageous as I thought. I received no ‘welcome package’ as other paid PhDs, no regulations booklet, no briefing regarding my privileges and rights, not even information that I can get free beverages from the coffee machines. I had to learn everything by asking and by annoying lots of people.

But then, it continued! Whenever I introduced myself as a ‘PhD candidate’, the average person would assume I was getting paid. And when I explained that I am doing it self-funded, then they would instantly see me as something totally different, as something out of this planet. That was the case with a public insurance office employee back in my country; I was applying for a card, but I was no longer a student, therefore could not get it as I had previously. I had to explain then that I am doing a PhD. “Oh, so then you have a salary, therefore you can pay for your insurance,” she said. “No, I am not getting paid for the PhD. It is self-funded,” was my response. She stared at me with disbelief. The problem was that I was neither a student, nor a paid employee. I was a glitch, an error the system was not prepared to face. I was not supposed to exist, and the Greek insurance system did not know how to handle me.

After being ignored a few more times, like in university mailing lists about crucial information, I decided to act. Not only I started ‘annoying’ again people in key positions by reminding them of my presence quite often, I also came in contact with the PhD council of my faculty and asked them for guidance. Their response was to offer me a position as a representative of the externally/self-funded people of the faculty, which I gladly accepted. Therefore, I am working against ‘invisibility’, but doing it now with a small advantage, making actually people listen to me. I have started seeing some results, but there’s still lots of work to be done.

To protect and to serve!

Rights have to be claimed. You have to fight for what is yours, you must ‘annoy’ people and you must remind them of your presence often. Only then you can turn ‘invisibility’ into ‘invincibility’.


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