Divya Madhavan

The Professionalism Issue – Divya

On Getting It Right & Getting It Out There – Divya Madhavan

Divya Madhavan

I work in Academia. The land whose billboards sometimes carry clever maxims like “publish or perish” or, as I’ve argued elsewhere “research says…”

Publish or perish is a fairly hollow cluster of words. It reduces professional culture to its most mechanical state; ticking the survival box. It emphasises, or rather downsizes, professional growth in terms of hard and fast cut-off points and recognition more through rules and less through ideas. Every game has its rules of course, but it’s the ideas that flourish within these rules that ultimately make us want to remain a part of the play.

I was recently asked why I wanted to write a thesis, why I didn’t consider publishing articles and then compiling them into a thesis, that way I’d establish a bibliographic train to my graduation gown. What’s intriguing here isn’t so much the different routes to getting a doctorate, but that this suggestion of a publication route was perceived as ‘getting the job done’ (and thus perhaps lowering my odds of perishing?).

I make these statements about norms and thresholds not because I am an academic who hasn’t published much (ahem…yet 😉 ) I say this because I believe in bringing down barriers to good ideas. Just like I don’t believe that research is only valid if done by a PhD holder, I don’t think publication in this or that journal is what makes an academic great. Surely the standard of greatness doesn’t just belong journal editors. Academics also lecture, mentor, supervise and look after students…and are on a very profound level, teachers.

My reason for blogging about the publication barrier here is because I see so many people struggle within my practice. From senior colleagues who forcefully wedge themselves into co-authoring spaces to junior colleagues who sweat over writing in languages they haven’t mastered for the sake of this or that journal, publication grade, impact factor, and so on… I’m not alone in expressing my worry regarding such banes of careerism. But what I’d like to do here is share some thoughts on how these rules of the game shape professional identity

For me there are two ways of collocating ‘professional’ and ‘identity’:

  • our professional identity is the one that faces outwards, the profile picture, the careful wording we put into our bios, the time and energy we spend on our presentations, our online presence, as well as our qualifications, affiliations and reputations.
  • our identity as professionals is the one that faces inwards, our personal investment into ourselves as academics, the ethical responsibility we have to our field, the language we use to express this awareness and also the deeper senses of self and persona that we build within ourselves, that make us grow as professionals as well. Why make the distinction? Because I wonder how much of our professional culture actually affords a development of the latter set of ideas.

What does the latter do?

It  obliges us to get it right before getting it out there. To read, to understand, to trial, to admit error, to reframe thoughts and to accept the deeper importance of criticality.

What does the former do?

It makes us accountable.

One of my educational heroes, Gert Biesta talks about a “culture of accountability” within education. This accountability isn’t just technical, managerial or financial, it’s also pretty emotional. And this very important. I am greatly reassured by the fact that my own supervisor has the title ‘Dr.’ before his name for instance, and feel he will do a marvellous job of overseeing my doctorate because he already has one.  But just like the outward facing makes us accountable, the inward facing makes us responsible. Accountable and responsible of course aren’t mutually exclusive qualities but I feel the distinction is worth making as they aren’t quite the same things on an ethical level.

Accountability has to do with the ‘face’ and as Biesta argues, creates economic relationships between people, where we do things for specific gain and advancement, including our professional portrayals. This economic bind might actually make the democracy of ideas more difficult to establish because it will naturally push us towards the box we want to tick.

Why would this be a problem?

Because it can formalize our professional dynamics away from the people who lie at the heart of education, namely teachers and students.

What is the use in my separating these ideas into the inward facing responsibility and the outward facing accountability?

To tease out the locus of control that we all have when it comes to our identities and our professions and that it is the balance of the face that looks out and the face that looks in that creates an identity that is integral and ethical.

Professional ethics isn’t a buzzword. Nor an academic formality, nor a tool or fix that will make us better teachers. It’s just something that concerns us all, that’s a little under-represented in today’s landscape of professional development. It’s something that lies at the heart of practice as the face in the mirror that we look at before looking out to our peers.

Biesta, G. (2010) Good education in an Age of Measurement: Ethics, Politics and Democracy. Paradigm Publishers


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Divya Madhavan

Divya Madhavan has taught in various cultural and educational contexts and has been at home in France for a while now. She is an EAP Lecturer at Ecole Centrale Paris and is doing a Doctorate in Education at the University of Exeter. Teaching is something that has resonated with her for as long as she can remember. Divya's main research interest is the practitioner voice in education. She has thus inevitably fallen in love with iTDi and is very excited to be a Mentor.

3 thoughts on “The Professionalism Issue – Divya”

  1. Dear Divya,

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post; apart from the uncanny ability to write, you’ve also done a brilliant job in lining out the two perspectives of professional identity. From what I’ve observed in recent times, outward professional identity has been taking the center-stage; almost every educator I know (including myself) is working hard externally shape their professionalism.

    Inward professional development, though, seems to take place subtly and unconsciously; A few educators have surely talked, discussed or written about it, but I somehow could not see a clear definition that encompassed those discussions into a single form (and I’d say this, exactly, is what you’ve successfully done). I suppose inward professionalism is where the human factor comes in; It steers away from the ‘mechanicality’ of teaching, yet delves deeper into the educator’s individual nature (which is equally important). How slick of you to have brought it to light through your writing! 🙂

    Lots to think about here, Divya. Thanks for bringing it forward!


    1. Hi Ratna,

      I’ve just dug up this post on the blog because I couldn’t find where I’d saved it on my computer, so I’ve only just seen your kind words 🙂 I think there’s a lot more to be said on inward professional development and you raise the interesting issue of the inward professional self and the inward self in general and consciousness-raising. So you’ve given me a lot to think about too…

      Take care,


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